David Atkins has decided to step down as chief executive of retail-focused real estate investment trust (REIT) Hammerson.

Hammerson said in a statement that Atkins will remain in position until spring 2021 at the latest, while the board conducts a search for his successor.

Atkins was promoted from managing director of Hammerson’s UK business to take on the CEO in October 2009 after being with the company for 11 years.

Atkins said: “The current environment, exacerbated by the impact of COVID 19, is undoubtedly the most challenging we have faced as a business.

“I feel now is the right time to search for a new chief executive, a person who can not only lead the business as we emerge from this period, but also into its next chapter.”

In March, Hammerson – which had sold close to a £1bn (1.12bn) of assets and had £828m wiped off the value of its portfolio as it repositioned itself amid weakness in the retail sector – said it is no longer recommending a proposed final dividend for 2019 and also withdrew its earnings guidance for 2020 due to COVID-19.

The UK-listed REITs issues were compounded further earlier this month with Orion Capital Managers abandoning plans to buy a £400m UK retail parks portfolio from the company.

David Tyler, chairman of Hammerson said Atkins has developed Hammerson “significantly through the growth of our premium outlets business, the geographical diversification of our portfolio, our market leading sustainability framework and the establishment of our City Quarters strategy”.

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