ACRIMONY is running high over the closure of a department store which has left a large retail park unit standing empty.

Beales moved out of its Abingdon home on Sunday despite the chain's attempts to salvage the struggling branch.

It had been lobbying for lower rents at its unit in Fairacres Retail Park, which it claimed had forced it to struggle financially.

But the site's owner insisted the store, which employed about 30 employees, was doomed from the start and should not have expanded to Abingdon in the first place.

Richard May, director of Mays Properties Ltd which owns the out-of-town shopping park, said: "They made some terrible retailing decisions. There has been talk about rent levels being too high but that isn't the case.

"Unfortunately the people that lose out are the staff. It's a real shame."

Beales moved into the Marcham Road site five years ago, subletting a lease owned by Anglia Regional (now Central England) Co-operative Society.

Mr May said he refused the Co-op permission when it asked to assign Beales its lease, which is why the sublet was agreed as it did not require approval from the landlord.

He said: "They were looking so shaky as a company. Before they even opened in Abingdon we came to the conclusion they would go bust - it was inevitable."

Mr May said negotiations with several furniture and furnishing retailers were taking place and the store could be split into several units.

Residents on Facebook page said they hoped the empty shop would be filled by a chain such as Next, Marks & Spencer or Aldi.

Abingdon BID manager Julie Downing said: "It's a huge unit to fill. It’s a shame Beales have left but it does leave an exciting opportunity for further retail."

Mr May insisted the new retailer would be 'strong' but expected the unit would remain empty for at least 'a few months'.

He added: "It's a case of 'watch this space'. It's just about matching the right tenants to the right units."

Beales chairman Stuart Lyons rebuffed his accusations about the businesses and insisted high rents were 'the only reason for our for our departure'.

He added: "Closing our store in Abingdon has been a great disappointment. We would like to thank our staff for their hard work, professionalism and loyalty, and the many customers who have supported us. The store has consistently achieved high sales, but regrettably has not been profitable due to the very high rent.

"Beales came under new ownership two years ago and recently announced a sharp improvement in operating profits. Unfortunately our Abingdon store continued to make heavy losses."

Mays Properties is due to submit a revised planning application to continue redevelopment at Fairacres.