Should we be building any more retail space in the UK or not?

The retail industry is changing rapidly, with more disruptors entering the market, greater online and digital competition pressuring brick and mortar stores, and consumer needs shifting.

With all that said, the UK still has the capacity to continue adding significant retail space, however, to do so effectively the industry needs to adapt to the changing face of modern retail.

Retail needs to be taken in a wider sense, offering more experience and be at the centre of placemaking. Placemaking involves retail destinations diversifying their offering to remain relevant destinations. For instance, Leslie Jones’ designed the redevelopment of Bromley Queens Gardens to add a dining quarter in order to appeal to modern consumer needs. Wembley Park is another example of Leslie Jones’ expertise in placemaking, as we added open walkways and balconied restaurants to the scheme to knit a distinctive, yet complementary, retail offering into the existing multi-purpose development. Similarly, Trinity Walk in Wakefield was a major retail-led regeneration scheme which both remained sensitive to the city’s late-medieval cathedral and historical areas, while also delivering a modern feel to the commercial offering.

While acknowledging that retail is changing, prime retail space is still prime retail space, and will continue to be prioritised for expansion and development. However, local authorities need to take the lead in other areas such as town centre regeneration. If local authorities can manage to successfully blend local and national retail with alternative uses such as health care and affordable work space, and if they can provide leadership and vision by de-risking assets while working in partnership with the private sector, then British towns and cities are likely to thrive. This model can be seen across the country from Newport to Sheffield, and more recently at Chester and Banbury where the local authorities have taken a large stake in their town and city centres.

Finally, retail is becoming more integrated within other developments. Leisure and experience focused developments are now incorporating retail elements, and developments designed for other uses - for instance the ground floors of transport hubs such HS2 and airports – are now being adapted to retail use.

The landscape of airport retail in particular is constantly evolving, as changes in consumer behaviour and retail strategy continue to develop at a significant pace. The global duty-free industry is expected to grow to about $67bn by 2020, despite limited innovations from airport retailers to adapt to new consumer behaviours and trends. To maintain and grow customer conversion and spend, the airport retail proposition needs to adapt to meet the expectation of the customer. Airports have a unique opportunity here to develop and grow their retail offering, and design is the key to ensuring the longevity of airports as shopping destinations in their own right.

Another evolving transport development is the regeneration project and commercial strategy of the Port of Dover waterfront, allowing the port’s retail and leisure facilities to effectively capitalise on being on the doorstep of one of the UK’s busiest transport hubs. Leslie Jones’ design solutions have ensured the ports commercial development will be easy to navigate, providing businesses and retailers the opportunity to engage effectively with consumers.

James Cons, Managing Director, Leslie Jones Architecture