Recently in Development Category
Today brings the end of a barren spell in the UK retail market that has not been experienced for some time. All eyes are on Yorkshire as Land Securities delivers its mammoth 1,000,000 sq ft Trinity Leeds - some 555 days after Boris Johnson cut the ribbon at Westfield Stratford.
Such a drought in the development pipeline would have surely been unthinkable back in the halcyon days of 2008 - a year which saw Westfield London and Grosvenor's Liverpool One amongst twelve new malls to open in the UK.
The drop down to 'zero' in 2012 can be attributed to an overwhelming litany of factors - economic difficulties for both retailers and developers, a lack of adequate funding, anchor-store pull-outs, 're-evaluation' of planning proposals, refusal of planning proposals, decreasing consumer confidence and the mall-crushing behemoth of on-line retail are only a handful. Essentially, the story is that the fall in new retail development over the past five years is one of the starkest representations of what the global economic crisis has done to this country.
Nonetheless, today should be a celebration of UK retail and its ever-increasing adaptability to difficult circumstances. There have been a lot of noises coming from Land Securities about Trinity Leeds being seen as an 'experience' destination - rather than simply a place to shop. This could ultimately determine the level of the mall's success, as developers increasingly look towards leisure and catering services to help boost footfall and tempt customers away from the convenience of shopping on the internet.
The opening comes at a time when UK retail desperately needs a shot in the arm. Yesterday's budget left the calls to re-think the business rate revaluation delay unanswered, and retailers facing a £175 million additional rates bill in April. This comes off the back of a dismal January which saw three major retail chains falling into administration, causing 10,000 jobs to be put at immediate risk as around 1,000 stores faced the axe.
All that can be put to one side today, as Land Securities can enjoy the fruit of a very long, and at times arduous, labour. Having downed-tools in 2009, you would have got extremely long odds on them opening a 90%-let scheme in March 2013, complete with the first Everyman cinema in the north of the country, in addition to a string of highly-sought-after retailers and catering outlets. It's a huge credit to them, and to Leeds as a whole, that they have done so.
Last month's seminal announcement over Croydon's retail future led me, among many others, to ponder over what the exact specifications of the new joint venture project would be.
I suggested that a new application towards the end of 2013 might take on the guise of Hammerson's "Whitgift Quarter" proposals, spanning across Croydon's two mammoth retail developments, Centrale and Whitgift, rather than separate applications for each scheme.
It appears I was wrong.
Two weeks ago, Croydon Council registered (for the first time) the full application lodged in September by Westfield, after having put forward a scoping opinion a couple of months prior. The applicant is now listed on the (amended) application form as 'Westfield Shoppingtowns Limited & Hammerson UK Properties PLC':
Strangely, the applicant listed on the 'application details' has changed over the weekend from the above to simply 'Westfield Shopping Towns Limited'. What we read into that, I don't know.
All documents within the newly-registered application make occasional reference to Centrale's role in the Croydon facelift, and make almost no mention of Hammerson at all! It's also interesting that the Design & Access statement for 'Westfield Croydon' (!) makes a pointed reference to the successful regeneration of King's Cross as being a precedent for a redevelopment of this scale.
So it appears that Hammerson is happy to "piggy-back" onto Westfield's concept for the Whitgift Centre redevelopment, having already secured consent in May 2012 to part-redevelop Centrale into a distinctly mixed-use mall.
Can we conclude, therefore, that the project will move forward as a double-pronged concept? Will the Westfield-branded shopping mall outlined in the new application come to pass? Can the 170,000 sq ft of leisure space proposed by Westfield coexist with the 99,000 sq ft currently permitted at Centrale?
If the answer to all of these is 'yes', then the exciting announcement made in January may not, in fact, yield an organic regeneration brainwave concocted by two retail heavyweights - but actually simply serve as a catalyst to accelerate two separate projects which could possibly have come to pass independently.
I suppose I would just be a little disappointed that the 'vision' for Croydon might simply turn out to be a staccato amalgamation of separate concepts, as opposed to an inspired 'meeting-of-minds' development spanning over both malls which could truly rubber-stamp the identity of the unique joint venture on the south London town.
If the development is to be as described herein, then the key piece of cross-party co-operation will come in ensuring the complementary nature of the retail and leisure offer across both redeveloped schemes. 'Hammerfield' must ensure that the newly created "Quarter" evolves as a singular, functional retail core, and not as one entity prospering at the expense of the other.
With the apparent dearth of new retail schemes due to grace the 'completions' list in the near future, it might come as pleasant news to learn that over the past month, EGi's Retail Scheme database welcomed four new major developments comprising a total of over 600,000 sq ft of new retail space. Click the icons on the map below for more details on each (zoom out to see all icons):
Whilst you wouldn't classify these as 'traditional' retail schemes, they are nonetheless indicative of a growing trend in the retail development world - namely, to build new space as part of a mixed-use scheme, rather than restricting projects to A1 use. Indeed, we are now even seeing owners of high-profile malls look to alternative uses to help fill vacant space and increase customer numbers (in addition to dwell time).
Of particular interest is the proposal just north of Dunstable, known in the official council document as the "strategic urban extension of Houghton Regis" It reminds me of a similar proposal I blogged about in November 2011 - an entirely new town on the Hoo Peninsula, to be known as Lodge Hill.
That particular scheme is still without outline approval after 15 months, so with that in mind I'll hold off on predictions as to when all this retail space will complete. It's encouraging, however, to know that despite all the well-documented struggles facing the retail market, there remains the ambition of developers and councils to keep faith with large-scale retail schemes - even if, going forward, retail space has to settle for being a constituent part of a mixed-use project, rather than the headline act of a single-use mall.
September 27th marked the six-month anniversary of the implementation of the government's new planning policy framework; designed ostensibly to simplify the planning system, protect the environment and, perhaps most crucially, to promote sustainable development.
With an entire section within the guidelines devoted to 'Ensuring the Vitality of Town Centres', the framework was also designed (albeit less pointedly) to stymie the proliferation of major out-of-town retail schemes, and lend another government hand to the long wished-for recovery of Britain's urban centres.
The full impact of the new framework won't be fully realised for some time; however, six months on, we can perhaps begin to assimilate an understanding of how the new guidelines are shaping retail planning (if at all) - and in particular the impact so far on out-of-town developments.
The criteria for inclusion in the following study were that the applications either have to be for new out-of-town retail developments measuring over 50,000 sq ft with three units or more, or for extensions to existing developments of that nature.
The charts below show the number of applications submitted between April 15th and July 15th over the last three years, and the combined sizes of all proposals:
What these charts signify is that although the number of applications has reduced compared to last year, the total amount of space has hardly dropped off at all - there are still several major applications for out-of-town space being lodged even with the new framework in mind. 2010 saw a similar overall number of applications to 2012, but for only around 60% of the amount of space applied for this year.
The pie charts below indicate the status of these proposals as of September 27th in each respective year:
In the two years preceding the NPPF, 50% or more of the applications submitted between April 15th and July 15th had been approved by September 27th. In 2012, only 33% of applications (5) had been given the thumbs-up by that date. This is in addition to one of the proposals having already been refused - which did not happen in 2011 or 2010. Whilst we can't assess the exact role of the NPPF in every individual application; it seems fair to say that the new guidelines are having an impact when it comes to the final outcomes of out-of-town proposals.
This theory is backed up by the chart below, which indicates the average time taken (within the 15th April - 27th September parameter) for the applications to be decided:
2012's average is a significant increase on those of 2010 and 2011, and may go some way to explaining the higher proportion of applications without decisions. As authorities adjust to operating the mechanics of decision making within the guidelines of the new proposals, delays to decisions are to be expected. This might also be due to different interpretations of the nuances of the planning framework causing developers to further explain why their proposal constitutes a 'sustainable development', and for objectors to counter that with reasons to explain why it doesn't.
Moving forwards, I will be interested to keep an eye on the undecided applications thus far from 2012 - as they represent 77% of the total space applied for. Of the undecided applications from 2010, 50% of the space was eventually permitted, whilst the 2011 figure is 29% (40% still without an outcome).
In twelve months' time, it will be of interest to see what proportion of the as-yet-undecided space has got the go-ahead, the percentage refused permission, and also how much has been either withdrawn or even superseded. I'll also be curious to see the number and scale of out of town proposals lodged during a full eighteen months of NPPF implementation.
I said at the outset that the full impact of the new planning framework is still to be realised - but there are certainly some visible trends so far that it is having an impact upon decision making, even if from a spatial point of view it hasn't quite dampened developers' tendencies to look beyond the urban perimeter for expansion opportunities. This may come further down the line, however, when the NPPF regulations mean a higher proportion of out-of-town applications are either turned down or left unresolved for an unpalatable length of time.
(All Sources: EGi Planning)
Whilst we're only two thirds through the year, and new town centre schemes could potentially stage a dramatic recovery between now and January, it is telling that the majority of new major retail developments are in out-of-town locations, despite the sentiments of both the high street review, and the new planning policy framework issued in March.
Perhaps crucial to this was the government's decision not to fully endorse point 15 of the Portas Review, which called for an exceptional government sign-off for all out of town schemes. They instead insisted that call-in powers ought to be used sparingly in order to maintain the devolution of planning power to the local authority, and pointed to the new policy framework as evidence enough for their commitment to 'town centre first' retail development.