Of all the shopping centres opening this autumn, Cabot Circus in Bristol is arguably the most needed.
The city is the dominant force in the economy of the southwest of England. But, while it ranks in the top 10 cities in terms of population, it doesn’t even rank in the top 20 shopping locations, according to Experian.
That is until Thursday, when Hammerson and Land Securities’ Cabot Circus opens its doors to shoppers for the first time. It has found favour with retailers and is set to open with more than 100 names trading. With Harvey Nichols joining House of Fraser as anchor, it will offer a quality of shopping the region has not experienced.
Talking to a former colleague who is now based in the city, the sense of excitement about the scheme’s opening is palpable. And while not wanting to question the quality of what has been developed, the excitement is as much a reflection on what was there before as of the new scheme.
Bristol’s Broadmead area was one of the worst examples of post-war architecture in retail and a less inspiring environment to trade in is hard to imagine. It’s no wonder the city’s affluent shoppers deserted its centre in droves in favour of the giant out-of-town centre at Cribbs Causeway.
This jump in quality goes a long way to explaining why new centres are letting well despite the downturn in the market. In Bristol – as in Leicester and Liverpool – retailers were desperately in need of good new space and shoppers want an attractive retail environment. So, while everyone would have liked these schemes to open in better markets, that doesn’t mean they won’t succeed.