The North West's retail sector is out in force at this year's British Council of Shopping Centres conference, which despite the London location has retained a regional focus.
Although council representation is thin on the ground, with only Cheshire West & Chester Council taking a stand, local teams from all the big property services firms are busy manning stands and are deep in talks at various coffee stalls across the conference space.
With sentiment across the community increasingly – and, at BCSC, audibly – positive, Place North West caught up with familiar faces from regional agencies to get their views on current hot topics and future trends.
Stuart Burdon-Bailey, head of retail and leisure at JLL in Manchester, said: "There is a lot going on in the cinema market and several new deals across the region. Contracts have been exchanged in Oldham and Northwich, and The Light has been named as anchor tenant in Stockport and Bolton. 2015 looks set to be a really strong year for cinemas, with a better film offer driving footfall.
"Restaurant developments are becoming increasingly frequent. Leisure is a component of everyone's lifestyle, with an increased propensity to dine out, so this has led to more brand variety in city centres. Central Manchester in particular is very strong, with outlets new to the region taking space. Fast casual dining restaurants are especially in demand."
Will Thomas, associate director at DTZ, said: "At the moment we are acting a lot as acquisition surveyors, for clients such as Vodafone or Robinsons Equestrian looking to expand regional portfolios. The market is definitely picking up across the whole of the North, with more deals being done. Landlords are more choosey, rent levels are strong and the standard of the offering in retail and leisure is generally high.
"Investment in transport and infrastructure, and improvements to public transport is key to the retail sector. Projects such as Manchester's Metrolink Second City Crossing or Network Rail's overhaul of Liverpool Lime Street station will help to boost after-work activity in nearby bars and restaurants. People will be able to take an approach more like that in the capital, where you can meet for food and drink after work without worrying about the long drive home and avoiding rush hour."
Peter Barker, director of Savills, said: "Extending the dwell time in cities and towns has become a higher priority. For instance, Stockport is a centre that shuts down at 5pm, and it shouldn't, particularly given the wealthy catchment nearby. However, Stockport Council is very proactive, and with new developments and plans coming to the fore, the offer should improve. Other councils, such as in Oldham, are also proving that they have serious ambitions for the revitalisation of their towns.
"Big deals in Manchester, such as Schroders' purchase of City Tower and L&G's at Piccadilly Place, means there is potential for a revitalisation of the retail offer within those schemes, which will have an impact on the surrounding Piccadilly Gardens area. Traditionally peripheral areas are hotting up, with institutional money even coming into places like the Northern Quarter that traditionally would not have appealed to that market."
Tom Prescott, associate director of retail agency at CBRE, said: "There is a real resurgence in Manchester city centre and new developments for leisure such as in Spinningfields and the Corn Exchange, however these are unlikely to have an effect on the dominance on the prime areas of Market Street, New Cathedral Street, and the Arndale Centre. There is a real evolution in the food and beverages market, with new brands coming up from London. The leisure market is really busy, but once the dust settles it will be interesting to see which restaurants maintain long-term success in the city.
"Fringe locations such as Didsbury and Chorlton should see more start-ups, and replications of successful city centre outlets in town high streets. The big change will be in pockets of affluence in places such as Wirral, Merseyside and West Lancashire, with a rise in branded restaurants due to a lack of competition on a local level."