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Planning for town centres needs a ‘fresh perspective’

Words: Laura Edgar
The Trafford Centre has been listed as the fourth best managed shopping centre in England / Shutterstock_258596774

Planning consultancy Lichfields says planning has a key role in supporting the changing nature of the retail and leisure property industry.

In the report Retail and Leisure Trends in England it suggests that retail spend levels are around 8 per cent above the pre-recession peak and are set to grow further.

Alison Bembenek, associate director at Lichfields, said that while the retail sector continues to grow, changing consumer habits are transforming retailers’ physical presence on the high street.

The top 10 managed shopping centres in England, from the report Retail and Leisure Trends in England:

  1. Westfield White City, London
  2. Westfield Stratford City, London
  3. Bluewater Shopping Centre, Dartford
  4. intu Trafford Centre, Manchester
  5. Meadowhall Shopping Centre, Sheffield
  6. intu Lakeside. Thurrock
  7. intu Metrocentre, Gateshead
  8. intu Merryhill, Dudley,
  9. Manchester Arndale, Manchester
  10. Liverpool One, Liverpool

“The  growth of new forms of retailing continues and there is a shift in customers’ attitudes from traditional shopping trips to a more experiential ‘day out’.

“This means that both traditional town centres and shopping centres must adapt to create the right environments to attract people to visit and stay longer.”

The report considers the UK’s top 15 shopping destinations, including Manchester (1), Brighton (5), London (7) and Leicester (11), and notes a shift is under way, with all 15 recording above average food and beverage provision. Of the UK’s top 500 shopping centres, 101 incorporate food courts.

The consultancy said the planning industry is key to helping accommodate this shift.

The report also details key trends in the retail industry:

  • The continued ‘softening’ of retail uses, and a simultaneous increase in the number of leisure-led schemes. According to the report, 30 of the top 100 shopping centre schemes in the UK now include a multiplex cinema.
  • There is an increasing polarisation of activity into the larger national, regional and sub-regional centres - their high-end retail offer is strengthening at the expense of smaller centres and traditional ‘middle market’ comparison retailers.
  • The rapid expansion of European discount food operators Aldi and Lidl and the increase in high-quality independent retailers continues apace.
  • The benefit to the vitality and viability of town centres of introducing more housing, including replacing or building over low-density retail stores or above their surface car parks, exploiting the ‘air rights’.

Bembenek added: “Planning policy for town centres now, more than ever, needs to be approached with a fresh perspective.

"It needs to respond to a centre's role, offer and locational distinctiveness; as well as the dynamism in retail and leisure formats and residential-led, mixed-use schemes.”

Image credit | Shutterstock