Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Is Regeneration In Need Of Some Retail Therapy?

The news that Ikea is building a new town, Strand East, complete with 1,200 homes, bars, restaurants, hotel and Piazza but no Ikea is fascinating.

I’m not as excited about the pedestrianized streets and the sustainability aspects, but the fact the major retailer is using the talents of its development team to diversify into wider initiatives.

The trend for the big retailers developing larger mixed use schemes has been growing in recent years. Take a look at Spenhill, the regeneration division of Tesco and you will see some impressive investment, like the New Square in West Bromwich, which is transforming the retail fortunes of the town with an imaginative new retail and leisure quarter.

With retail development now being seriously scrutinised, the opportunity to use the experience of the development teams to unlock the potential of sites seems a natural and positive progression. If you drive round the centre of cities and towns (like I did round Wolverhampton last week), you will see significant sites crying out for development.

This is putting pressure on councils to attract investment and be seen to inject vitality to the core centres. As a result, I believe there is a new wave of willingness to look at proposals and, where perhaps these didn’t stack up commercially previously, some lateral thinking could unlock potential.

Going a stage further, I believe it is not just councils receptive to offers but housing associations too. The larger ones are under pressure to hit social housing targets, are being encouraged to think outside the box and partner with the private sector. For sure the public sector funds will not stretch to meet the aspirations of most social housing group plans.

So may be the time is right for the development teams of the major retailers to put down their retail carrier bags and go shop for bigger, all- encompassing schemes and really show their brilliant skills in other sectors.