Punters enter for the first time

Visiting The Rock Bury

Enjoy it while it lasts. The opening of a £300m retail-led development in Bury town centre would stand out in any year but in these doldrums it is alone in the country.

See my gallery of pics from the opening day below

There are large extensions in Bath and closer to home Blackburn still to open in the second half of this year but the retail property bigwigs touring The Rock Bury on the opening day last week couldn't name another new centre coming on stream this year.

The Rock is 84% let by floorspace, some way short of the 90% once predicted by developer Thornfield before HBOS and Deloitte replaced it with Hammerson when other schemes in the Thornfield group went into administration.

Out of the 60 retail units at The Rock, 43 units were let prior to opening, with roughly half of those new to the town.

Others relocated from Bury's existing centre, Mill Gate, owned and well managed by Scottish Widows and which will recover from the competition.

Richard Poyser, assistant director of retail leasing at Hammerson, said The Rock's empty units tend to be in the 1,500 sq ft to 2,500 sq ft range, the weakest part of the market.

Poyser's wish-list includes another shoe store to add to Deichmann, a games and/or music store – HMV took a temporary unit in Mill Gate and has stayed there for now – and an outdoor clothing shop.

Architects BDP have done a great job designing The Rock, with a varied palette from wood to that fashionable purple stone and the big shiny curvy silver box of the cinema and leisure part.

It has a simple logic to walk around, with anchors arranged in a line from Primark to Next, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, alongside a loop of smaller stores. The new public gardens to the side of M&S are a pleasant surprise, with benches to take the strain for waiting husbands, wood flooring and overall really well finished.

If I had any reservations on the opening day tour they were about the new public art, white/clear upright Toblerone things in the centre, which looked flimsy next to the bold architecture, and the lack of an entrance into the cinema and restaurants other than from the roadside.

The reaction from locals is far more important: the 3,644 people that have joined The Rock's Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/TheRockBury) so far seem chuffed with their newfound attraction. Check out the style gallery of photos of people posing in the marketing suite for the chance to win a £50 voucher, it's brilliant.

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