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Sports Direct boss threatens to close Intu Chapelfield store

PUBLISHED: 10:16 26 November 2018 | UPDATED: 18:14 27 November 2018

Business tycoon Mike Ashley is reportedly considering shutting his Sports Direct stores in Intu shopping centres. Photo: Steve Adams

Business tycoon Mike Ashley is reportedly considering shutting his Sports Direct stores in Intu shopping centres. Photo: Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

Retail tycoon Mike Ashley is reportedly considering shutting his Sports Direct stores in Intu shopping centres, as his row with the landlord heats up.

Earlier this month Mr Ashley announced he would be closing four House of Fraser shops in Intu centres – including the store in Norwich’s Intu Chapelfield – after negotiations over a rent deal failed.

Now, according to reports in the Sunday Times, the billionaire is threatening to close 15 stores in shopping centres up and down the country, claiming that “has demonstrated it is unwilling to help retailers save stores and jobs”.

Mr Ashley’s growing retail arsenal includes Sports Direct, Flannels, USC and Evans Cycles, with only Sports Direct occupying premises in Intu Chapelfied.

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is reportedly threatening to close more of his stores at Intu shopping centres. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is reportedly threatening to close more of his stores at Intu shopping centres. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

The threat is the latest move in a long-running wrangle between the two parties, with Mr Ashley seeking rent reductions for his portfolio, and Intu signalling it will not be railroaded into slashing prices.

When Mr Ashley bought department store House of Fraser out of administration in the summer, one of his first steps was to seek to renegotiate rents, many of which were in premium and flagship units.

After being unable to reach agreement over the four Intu premises, he announced their closure, attempting to point the finger at the property company by personally urging “other institutional landlords to be more proactive to help save the House of Fraser stores in their schemes”.

House of Fraser is set to close its Norwich store at Intu Chapelfield next spring. Picture: Neil DidsburyHouse of Fraser is set to close its Norwich store at Intu Chapelfield next spring. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Intu Chapelfield in Norwich has a large three-storey Sports Direct store close to House of Fraser, though neither side has made public comment about the threat.

When House of Fraser announced its closure in Norwich, Chapelfield general manager Paul McCarthy said all options for the future of the unit were being kept open.

He said it could have a future as retail space, but that Intu Properties had also had success at other centres by using similar spaces for leisure purposes, including mini golf, climbing walls, entertainment centres or a cinema.

Mr Ashley was reported to believe the potential annual loss in rent for Intu would be at least £25m, but sources close to the landlord suggest it would be closer to one-fifth of that figure – less than 1% of its annual rent roll.

Intu is currently awaiting confirmation of a £2.8bn takeover bid from a group of investors led by its largest shareholder John Whittaker. The deadline for the bid has been extended three times and is now set for Friday, November 30.

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