Shopping centre operator Hammerson said today it has submitted plans to convert a former Debenhams store in the UK into new homes for rent.

This comes amid a steep fall in valuation of properties focused on the retail sector due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The plan submitted to the Leicester City Council proposes redevelopment of the former Debenhams store at Highcross, St Peter's Lane into more than 300 homes.

Hammerson is teaming up with build-to-rent operator and developer Packaged Living for the project. 

"While the structural shift in retail and changing consumer shopping habits have meant that destinations such as Highcross need to adapt their offer and mix of uses, well-connected city centre locations such as this will always be places where people want to be," Mark Bourgeois, managing director UK and Ireland at Hammerson, said.

Shopping centres in the UK are set to be fully operational only by mid-May as per the phased exit plan from the latest round of Covid-19 restrictions which have kept shoppers at home and led to widespread rent deferrals by retailers. 

Last week, Hammerson sounded a warning about its longer-term debt and also launched asset sales to bolster its finances. 

In January, online fashion retailer Boohoo bought the Debenhams brand and other business assets, including all its in-house brands and websites, out of administration, but the deal excluded Debenhams' stores and its 12,000 staff.

All Debenhams' UK stores will permanently close this year. 

In 2020, clothes retailer Next opened standalone beauty halls in former Debenhams stores, snapping up the space in five shopping centre owned by Hammerson. 

In Ireland, Hammerson owns a 50% stake in the Dundrum, Ilac and Pavillion shopping centres in Dublin, and a 40% stake in Kildare Village.