EBONY GORDON reports on some worrying retail trends for town centre developers Westfield and Hammerson
Wayne Hemingway, one of the country’s most high-profile designers, and a member of Croydon’s Place Review Panel, says that viewing town centres as venues for “retail therapy” is a thing of the past.
“There is a societal change amongst a new generation who don’t see shopping as the be-all and end-all,” Hemingway said in the BBC Radio interview this week.
That will be bad news for Croydon Council, which runs the Place Review Panel, and for Westfield and Hammerson, who are supposed to be starting work on a £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres sometime in 2019.
Following a lengthy and expensive – for the council – Compulsory Purchase Order process in the town centre and a second planning permission granted six months ago for Westfield’s scheme, which now includes nearly 1,000 “luxury apartments”, store owners and traders have informed Inside Croydon that they have had no further information from the developers about when the regeneration project might begin, or when they will be expected to vacate their premises.
So Hemingway and his colleagues have not been asked for their opinions on a scheme which has been in discussion for more than six years.
But Hemingway was clear, when interviewed by the BBC about troubling declines in retailing business figures, that the era of the High Street as a shopping venue may be coming to an end – a judgement which might be worrying for the decision-makers at Westfield and Hammerson with so much investment in Croydon at stake.
So far this year, out-of-town retailers Toys ‘R Us have gone out of business and technology chain Maplin has closed, while department store chain House of Fraser has announced a series of closures.
On Monday, the British Retail Consortium and Springboard published figures that showed that footfall – the number of potential customers visiting stores – fell by 3.3 per cent in April. That was on top of a 6 per cent fall in March, and prompted comparisons from the Consortium with the worst decline in retail business since the depths of the recession in 2009.
Other data showed that town centre vacancy rate – the number of empty shops – had risen to 9.2 per cent, a figure to send shivers down the spines of shopping centre operators such as Westfield and Hammerson.
Hemingway, interviewed on the Today programme, when asked what would you do with struggling High Street, said, “Get rid of the term ‘High Street’.”
Hemingway said, “Town centres were always places of social interaction. I think it was a bit of an aberration were retail and shopping was seen as this thing called ‘retail therapy’.
“There is a societal change amongst a new generation who don’t see shopping as the be-all and end-all. I know, and I’m convinced, that shopping is a means to an end was an aberration.”
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