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Who owns Dundee’s top 18 vacant high street units?

Who owns the longest standing vacant properties on Dundee's high streets? We purchased property deeds for 18 units which have been empty for at least three years.
Ema Sabljak
Map of Dundee's top eighteen vacant high street units with lines linking them to owners.
We investigate who owns the high street vacant units that have been empty the longest.

Some vacant premises on Dundee’s high streets have remained empty shells for years.

We have now been tracking data on the health of the city’s main shopping streets since June 2023.

Over a quarter of the city’s vacant units have laid vacant for more than three years as of mid-February.

Left empty for as long as 14 years, these former shops and restaurants have been neglected and vandalised despite their prime location.

So we set out to discover who owns them.

Our exclusive analysis reveals:

  • Less than two-fifths (38.9%) are owned by proprietors with a DD postcode, but the majority of owners are Scotland-based
  • Half of the vacant units are owned by companies specialising in letting or selling property
  • Only a third of the long-term empty premises changed ownership after the last business shut
  • Six of the 18 were available for sale or lease at the time of analysis, but 12 of them had planning proposals since they were last occupied

Where are the owners of Dundee’s top vacant units?

The Shirebrook address in Derbyshire is the current headquarters of of Frasers Group’s Sports Direct.

“Investment on their doorstep” or further afield

The furthest owner address from Dundee was in Hereford for Mahady Developments Ltd who own the old Toymaster building.

And 1A High Street, last home to Giza, is owned by Birmingham-based Lee Wenna Ltd.

The never occupied 274A Perth Road (a smaller unit added when Sainsburys opened at 274) is split between three couples based in Northern Ireland.

A total of six or a third of the properties have owners outside of Scotland.

Nicola McCafferty, real estate specialist with Thorntons, explained there has been a recent “shift” with more interest from investors outside of Tayside.

“I would say in the past we were definitely seeing more local investment or people who know the local area and how it works,” she said.

“They live here and they want their investment on their doorstep.

“I would say we are definitely seeing more investment from outwith Tayside. There is a lot more investment from the central belt but also outwith Scotland.”

She added: “A lot of investors want to spread their portfolio but also they want the diversity.

“They know that there’s a lot of investment coming into Dundee- there is the V&A but also the Eden Project coming along.”

Who owns the empty premises?

Most of the eighteen vacant units are owned by private limited companies.

However, the former Hynds Amusement Arcade on Reform Street was taken over by a charity.

exterior of Hynds Amusement Arcade 27-29 Reform Street, Dundee
Hynds Amusement Arcade on Dundee’s Reform Street has been empty for more than five years. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

The Nilupul Foundation, based on the same street, bought the property in 2022.

Maggie Powell, centre director, said the charity has been “actively renovating” the property to use as a wellness centre.

It would see the unit open for the first time in five year and she explained “it has been a big challenge to get it in order”.

“We hope to open sometime this year when thankfully 27-29 Reform St will no longer be on the list of empty city centre properties,” she added.

Dundee City Council also stands behind one of the longest-standing vacant units.

The property on 7 Castle Street was included in our investigation as it was just recently filled after being left empty for more than 12 years.

The unit is now being used by Hapworks,  “an adaptable creative space”, led by Creative Dundee in a push to fill vacant spaces.

But it is only set to be occupied until May 2024.

The eleven empty properties owned by limited companies can be split by the nature of the business.

Nine specialise in either letting or buying properties while the other two are listed as retail on Company House.

How long have they had them?

The remaining five properties are all owned by individuals.

However, this also includes the owner of 52-54 Commercial Street or the old Barrhead Travel.

It is registered to a David Moulsdale trading as Moulsdale Properties and the included address is the head office of Optical Express.

Moulsdale is the chief executive of the optician group but as Moulsdale Properties is not a limited company we have categorised him among individuals.

Just down the same road, 19 Commercial Street had been left vacant for 4.7 years by the time of our data snapshot on February 19.

It was taken over by Paul Mathieson Mcghee in 2018 and shut as Dundee Design Project in 2019.

But, just weeks after we gathered the data, it opened as Thrift City at the start of March.

Individual-owned units also includes 91 Perth Road, formerly occupied by Cafe Montmartre, which last changed hands in 1988, according to the old sasine register.

The property appears to have remained in the ownership of Alexandra Murray since. It marks the longest ownership of any of the 18 vacant units.

Other properties which have remained in the same hands for more than two decades include 33 Exchange Street (The Anglers Creel), 7 Castle Street (Keiller’s China Shop) and 43 Reform Street (Cooper and McKenzie).

Only six or 33% of the units appear to have been purchased after they were last made vacant.

Changing hands?

Two of the units have been filled since our analysis was carried out: 7 Castle Street and 19 Commercial Street.

While the first is only occupied temporarily, it shows the most initiative to change the fate of the top vacant units.

Not a single one of the six properties purchased after they became vacant were listed for either sale or lease as of February 14.

A search for property listings of the vacant units showed only four of them were being actively marketed online.

However, they do not all have physical real estate signs showcasing that they are on the market.

Two of the vacant units do still have signs despite not being actively listed online as of mid-February.

But one of those includes advertising on 1a High Street, previously occupied by Giza and KFC, that has been torn in half by scaffolding.

Picture shows outside premises of 1a High Street with scaffolding covering the entrance and the windows tagged with graffiti.
The former Giza on 1a High Street was plastered with graffiti – Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Yet, could the owners have other plans for these properties?

Planning applications may not always see actual changes, but we checked if there were recent attempts to improve or modify the spaces.

Planning ahead

Of the twelve units not listed for sale or lease, nine have seen planning applications submitted since they were last occupied.

Victoria Wine could be set for a new lease of life as a dental practice if the work is approved and carried out.

But even approved plans can take years to execute, if at all.

This is shown by the likes of Commercial Street’s Toymaster and Antalia on Whitehall Crescent.

Both achieved approval subject to conditions for grand plans to transform the entire buildings. Proposals were approved in 2019 and 2021 respectively.

Property expert Ms McCafferty said that fit-out costs and associated planning permissions are also a determining factor for many tenants looking to move into the high street.

“To have a property fitted out now compared to say five years ago, the costs are pretty much double what they were.

“If it has been unoccupied for so long, it just means that there potentially could be more problems with the property that the new occupier has to deal with when they take the keys.”

Shows red façade of vacant Toymaster unit on Commercial Street in Dundee. A person is walking its shutters covered in graffiti.
The building at 13-17 Commercial Street, Dundee, formerly occupied by Toymaster is on the official list of Buildings at Risk. Pictured on 20th February 2024 – Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Meanwhile, some of the other plans seem unlikely to impact the actual retail unit.

An approved application for 6 Nethergate, Crust etc, simply seeks to install a cash machine on the outside wall.

A finger in every pie?

Only one proprietor address is shared by multiple of the top 18 vacant properties.

The former Tesco in 60 Murraygate and neighbouring ex-DW Sports fall under a single title document and are owned by SDI (Dundee) Limited.

SDI (Dundee 2) Ltd’s ownership of 14 Reform Street, formerly home to Amplifon, may seem small in comparison. But the deed includes three addresses.

That also includes 12 Reform Street currently occupied by Ann Summers.

This is not unusual as seven of the properties, including the above, have multiple adjacent addresses included on the title sheet.

Joup Property do not own just the ex-Antalia on 3 Whitehall Crescent but the adjacent residential parts of the building. That includes 1 and 5 Whitehall Crescent and 31 Crichton Street.

The title plan for 52 – 54 Commercial street covers the entirety of the old Clydesdale bank building that fills the triangular space between Murraygate and Commercial Street.

The David Moulsdale owned building also provides a space for Optical Express at its main entrance.

Further on Commercial street, Paul Mathieson Mcghee does not own just the long-term vacant unit at number 19 but also number 21.

The latter is currently occupied by Thai Therapeutic Massage.

Ownership of the former William Hill on Whitehall Street also covers the CEX on 1 Whitehall Street and 8 Nethergate.

Millions in investment… for units to sit empty

Since most units are not currently being listed for sale or let, there is no consistent data on the price of the individual vacant units.

But most title documents do list the consideration or the monetary amount paid for a property transaction.

The exceptions include some of the properties that came from the oldest records. These are units formerly filled by Keiller’s China Shop and Cafe Montmartre.

Documents for the William Hill unit list the consideration as “in lieu of payment of dividend” while 274A Perth Road documents state there was none.

Meanwhile, the hefty consideration of £29.5 million for the properties including Amplifon also extends “to other subjects” not listed in the document.

That leaves 13 of our top vacant properties and more than £11 million in investment.

Some of the considerations cover whole buildings or multiple addresses, but the documents show a total of £11,114,310 was invested for properties that include our vacant units.

While the empty shops won’t warrant the whole figure, they represent a chunk of that investment sitting unused.

Of the 13, the highest contribution is for the building including the former Barrhead Travel at over £3.5 million.

The B-listed building was originally built to house a bank and now includes three separate units.

The only other multi-million investment is Murraygate property which used to house both DW Sports and Tesco.

A total of £3.5 million was paid the last time the the two units, covering over 3,511 square metres, last changed hands.

The £818,560 consideration for Antalia includes the entirety of the building.


The search for the owners of our eighteen longest standing vacant units began on Scotland’s Land Information Service.

Each property was individually matched up with the listings on the land register.

In some cases, we consulted council planning documents to match up units and title documents.

However, the digital register does not include all the properties we needed.

To trace them, we submitted property search forms to request the records from the older sasine register.

In other cases there are multiple properties listed under the address with no indication of floors. These also needed to be confirmed with property search forms.

Further data was then gathered from Company House, past and current property listings and council planning documents.

Each owner was approached for comment but only three responded to our request.

A Dundee City Council spokesperson said 7 Castle Street needed refurbishment but “due to the impact of Covid this work was delayed”.

It was last occupied in 2016 but the council said it was actively marketed after completing work in December 2022.

A spokesperson for J. A Braithwaite Ltd said the unit at 33 Exchange Street was now used for storage.

Dundee Matters

The Courier has recently launched an initiative aimed at finding solutions for the city’s problems – Dundee Matters.

Our first focus is on the high streets and as part of that we are looking for you to have your say in our survey.

Your responses will help guide a high street summit at our city centre office in May.

The panel will bring together people who are invested in a positive future for the city centre.

Have your say. Make an impact.