Future of Retail + Leisure | Photos, summary, slides
Professionals working across retail and leisure space discussed the health of brick-and-mortar retail and regeneration.
The evolving demands on town centre retail, competing with Amazon, and convenience versus sustainability, were some of the issues covered over two panels at the latest Place North West event, sponsored by Kuits Solicitors and Aew Architects, and hosted by Julia Hatmaker, deputy editor at Place North West.
Presentation – Bruntwood Works
James Tootle, head of retail and leisure with Bruntwood Works, gave an update on the company’s multi-million-pound project to redevelop Stretford Mall and town centre.
“We saw an opportunity to reimagine a whole town centre, which is not something you often get to do. When we were asked by Trafford Council to get involved, we were very keen,” Tootle said.
The masterplan is about “reconnecting the town centre with the wider Stretford area”, he said.
“In order for town centre retail to be successful, it must have a wider ecosystem around it that provides different layers of experiences.”
The plan includes repurposing vacant retail space. While there are some “excellent businesses” within the centre, there are also a lot of vacancies, according to Tootle.
And while he was “struck by how important an asset” the mall is for the community, he said it has some physical limitations.
“The site is essentially an island,” he said. “The mall very inward-facing and doesn’t connect with the wider community.”
Numerous consultation events have been held with the public, as it has been important to include people form the start, Tootle said.
“We also want to provide different reasons for people to want to come into the town centre, so it’s not just where people come to shop, which is what it is at the moment, but to work, shop, play, be entertained and be social.
“It’s about giving areas an identity. This is important because we’re competing against Amazon,” he said. “It’s about putting things into the space that people can’t get on Amazon.
“In a world where everything can be done from home, the retail needs to be relevant,” Tootle said, adding that a ‘cookie-cutter approach’ doesn’t work anymore.
Panel one – The future of retail and leisure
- James Tootle, head of retail and leisure, Bruntwood Works
- Stephen Proudley, director, Savills
- Kenny Murray, general manager, Cheshire Oaks
- Felicity Tulloch, partner and head of licensing, Kuits Solicitors
In this discussion about the future of retail and hospitality, the panel talked about the state of the sectors, and the changing ways we interact with brick-and-mortar stores.
While retail has somewhat bounced back since the pandemic, the underlying conditions aren’t “as good as we think,” said Stephen Proudley.
“We’re still seeing a huge amount of pent-up demand,” he said. “The overall health is good, but we should be prepared for a tailing-off.”
Lower footfall is impacting retail and leisure sales, and towns will suffer until the country has fully returned to work, Proudley added.
But people have been desperate to return to the high street, said Kenny Murray.
“Online surged throughout lockdowns,” Murray said. “Coming out of lockdown three, people have wanted to get back and experience retail like they did before.”
Felicity Tulloch agreed that there’s an appetite from the public to get back to their lives, and there’s now a return to pre-pandemic levels within the hospitality sector – especially in suburban settings.
“The hospitality sector is really resilient,” she said. “Some businesses didn’t make it, but this presents opportunities for retailers that were able to weather the storm.”
But in order to properly capitalise on this return, the panel agreed that town centres must remain relevant to people’s changing needs and demands.
“In town centres, it’s about what else can we build into the retail experience,” James Tootle said.
Consumers now want a lot from spaces, Murray added.
“It’s about experience, but also around how you operate as a business,” he said. “You’ve got to keep investing in new ideas and keep moving forward. A lot of town centres haven’t had the opportunity to evolve and move onto new things, so when you walk around them they feel dated. When you walk around schemes that have been invested in, they feel fresh.”
The panel agreed that one challenge is how to overcome the convenience of driving into town centres and other retail areas, in order to meet sustainability targets.
“You can’t keep building more car parks. Connectivity is a big challenge for all of us,” Tulloch said.
Presentation – Aew Architects
Phil Hepworth, director with Aew Architects, discussed the ways in which consumer behaviour has changed, and updated the audience on ongoing projects.
“The pandemic has strengthened internet shopping for people who were already doing, but also encouraged a generation that weren’t – older people for example.”
But as well as innovating to meet new demands and behaviours, other groups shouldn’t be left behind, Hepworth added.
“Contactless limits have gone up, we’re going cashless. The danger is we alienate people who rely on cash, so we need to bear that in mind.”
Hepworth gave an update on Aew’s ‘StockRoom’ project, for which the government has awarded £14.5m in Future High Street funding.
“It’s about engaging people into the development of this project,” he said.
“We’re looking at creating a universal learning space, we’re looking to bring the library into here, making it fit for purpose, providing better facilities. By providing better facilities for parents, for people with disabilities, people are more likely to know they’ve got a space they can go to and continue their day,” he said.
Hepworth also gave an update on the Oldham Spindles shopping centre project. The site has “too much retail space and too many vacancy rates” at the moment, he said, but the project will start to free up sites and improve connection between them.
Aew is also looking at introducing workspace to the 450,000 sq ft site, so that it attracts more footfall.
“We’re looking to reutilise the upper levels and turn them into workspace, and we’re looking to use balcony spaces as social spaces for users of the offices,” he said.
Panel – Retail and leisure as regeneration tools
- Phil Hepworth, director, Aew Architects
- Nicole Roe, director, Eden Planning
- Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director, Blackpool Council
- Warwick Smither, development director, Genr8 Developments
- Beckie Joyce, consultant, Preston City Council
In this panel, professionals discussed the drawbacks of the Future High Streets Fund, and whether shopping centres still have any relevance. Warwick Smither kicked off the panel with a positive forecast on the return of high street shopping.
“While the internet seems to be exponential in its growth, we’re still a nation that enjoys the experience of going to a shopping centre or town centre, so retail will be important. But it will be part of a much wider activity where other uses sit alongside it, like retail, leisure and civic facilities,” Smither said.
The importance of good quality public spaces shouldn’t be overlooked when redeveloping leisure and retails spaces, the panel agreed.
“We live in a world that’s very public,” said Nicole Roe. “Places have to be seen and talked about to build that buzz and get people visiting, you see this in small towns and large cities.”
The panel then moved on to funding, and Phil Hepworth explained that Levelling Up funding was needed for Aew’s project to develop Radcliffe Civic Hub.
“It needs that kickstart,” Hepworth said. “That’s the real purpose Levelling Up funding plays. It’s helping with viability,” he said, adding that creating opportunities for local people in Stockport wouldn’t happen without funding.
But the Future High Streets Fund has its flaws, said Nick Gerrard.
“It became an over-politicised process and has disadvantaged the north with the benefit-cost ratio. Now, it’s more favourable to lower value places, but you had to have a vision for your area, what you were trying to achieve and where projects fitted into that.
“The Levelling Up fund is the same. It’s taking up a huge amount of bidding resources and time to get these things, and it’s not really the best way to do things.”
These funds are also predominantly capital funding that needs to be spent in incredibly short time scales, added Beckie Joyce.
“The idea you have to come up with a vision, then projects, then the delivery mechanisms, then you have three months to spend it all, is very difficult. But no one won’t go for it, because places – particularly councils in the north not in devolved areas – have been waiting for two decades to have a say in how their places will move forward,” she said.
The panel also discussed the difficulties with redeveloping schemes that include shopping centres.
“In a number of schemes I’m working on, the shopping centre is inhibiting the vision being realised,” said Hepworth.
Most town centres and the shopping centres inside them, Gerrard added, are in need of change.
“They’re having to evolve and introduce more alternative uses into the fabric,” he said.
The presentation slides can be accessed below:
The next Place North West event is 3 November: Merseyside Development Update. Tickets are currently on sale for the in-person conference. Digital livestream tickets are also available.
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Article by Jessica Brown for Place North West