Is Sports Direct looking to move into the former BHS store?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 21 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:39 22 February 2020
Speculation is mounting that retail magnate Mike Ashley could be considering making a bid to take over the former BHS in the Butter Market and turn it into a major new Ipswich site for his brands.
He controls Sports Direct and has over recent years has been on a major buying spree, snapping up brands like House of Fraser, Flannels, Game and Jack Wills.
Now business leaders in the town say he has been looking at the former BHS, which has been empty since the collapse of that chain in 2016, to become a new Sports Direct with Flannels and USC as well.
Sports Direct is currently in a first-floor unit in Carr Street - but that part of the town centre is no longer seen as central to the retail heart of Ipswich and many neighbouring buildings are set to get new uses.
Planning permission was granted in 2017 for BHS to be split into smaller units with shops, bars and restaurants - but developer Ken Ford has not been able to sign up tenants to take the project forward.
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If Mr Ashley did want to use the building for a single large store he would not need new planning permission for change of use - it is already registered for retail.
New signs would require planning permission, but that would be a much more streamlined process than a full application.
It is understood that there has been no approach to the borough - but officials are aware of the Sports Direct interest in the building and would not be surprised if there was contact from the company.
Mr Ashley attempted to buy the BHS chain before it went into administration in 2016 - and has bought other sites previously occupied by the chain since the collapse.
But he is one of the UK's most controversial business leaders. He has put landlords under huge pressure to cut rents, threatening to close branches of House of Fraser. Work practices at Sports Direct have come under the spotlight, and his ownership of Newcastle United has led to serious criticism among fans.
However he is one of the few major retailers to be attempting to expand his presence on the nation's high streets as the retail sector comes under serious pressure from online retailers and out-of-town shopping centres.