Cheshire continues, “If the lease ended, however, I could close it. The owners would then re-let the space at a price significantly lower than what B&Q was paying, he argues. “I have never been able to understand this disconnect where the real estate market starts to react, but it is on the pieces that become vacant.
“The UK is unique enough to have these long-term leases – in France it’s a lot shorter, in the US it’s a lot shorter – and that creates this surplus in the market and [landlords] will not admit that the property is worth less. Everyone is sort of in this “delay and pray” type of territory.
Debenhams could have been saved before the pandemic, Cheshire says. But that forced the owners to accept that only 50 of its 170 stores were profitable enough to stay open. “We couldn’t persuade the owners to make the real change that was needed,” he says. The stalemate and being locked into multi-year bank loans has left Debenhams “in a kind of zombie loop”.
After stepping down as chairman of Barclays UK in January, Cheshire was able to devote more time to promoting sustainable agriculture and food production – a passion he has had since returning to the Borneo rainforest. on vacation as a teenager.
Cheshire was knighted in 2014 for its service to business, sustainability and the environment. And he now wants the Prime Minister to set up a bank dedicated to supporting “agroecology”, which advocates the use of green technologies, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It also promotes the increase in areas dedicated to ponds, hedges and meadows.
Cheshire insists he is not campaigning for taxpayer financial assistance. “There is only so much the private sector can do to help initiate change,” he says. “It’s very difficult to go green if you’re in the red. “