Leeds is already one of the country’s top retail cities, but with two centres opening in the next four years, Ben Cooper asks if it really needs the 1.5 million sq ft of space that’s on the way.

Leeds is hardly starved of retail. With a strong and well-established heritage, it has enough shops, shopping centres and shoppers to compete with any rival city.

So much so that a fortnight ago, in Retail Week’s annual Top Towns supplement, Leeds was described as “over capacity” by Experian.
It might seem surprising then that there are big expansion plans underway that will bring yet more retail space and transform the city. Rival partnerships are busily working on bringing a flood of new space to either end of the city centre.

So why does the UK’s seventh-ranking retail city need another 1.5 million sq ft (139,000 sq m) of store space? And, with so much already under its belt, can Leeds handle the new space – especially as a recession looms? “It’s a lot of retail space to be out in Leeds within four years,” says Savills associate director in the Leeds office Stephen Henderson. “The schemes are going to be competing with each other and fighting over retailers in what is going to be a very different market.”

There is already plenty of development going on in Leeds. The most recent retail injection was Crosby Lend Lease’s Clarence Dock. The mixed-use scheme, which only opened three weeks ago, has brought yet more young fashion brands such as G-Star, Rock Couture and Replay – its first store in Leeds – to the already well-furnished city centre.

Clarence Dock joins a crowded shopping centre line-up. There are no fewer than nine malls of varying size in and around Leeds city centre. For a population of slightly more than 700,000 that is certainly a very rich supply. In terms of high streets, there are two key destinations. Between them, Briggate and Commercial Street represent the most attractive high street offers, although the latter has fallen from grace with retailers in recent years.

The population around the city is affluent and fashion-focused. The catchment, which also benefits from a large student population, totals 4.2 million, with a discretionary spending power of£1.68 billion annually.

One of the most distinctive features of Leeds is that it is a Harvey Nichols city. Anchoring the Victoria Quarter, the department store is a big asset for Leeds that has set the tone for the high-quality young fashion offer that has done so well.

The two new kids on the block – Trinity Leeds and the Eastgate Quarter – will dramatically change the shopping dynamics of Leeds. Although each incorporates existing space, between them they will inject 1.5 million sq ft (139,000 sq m) of new space into the Leeds retail mix.
The first of the big schemes to open will be Land Securities and Caddick Developments’ Trinity Leeds. Construction work is in the very early stages for this fusion of two of the city’s biggest centres, Leeds Shopping Plaza and Trinity Quarter. The finished project will be a mixture of new, extended and existing space, amounting to 1 million sq ft (93,000 sq m), with 120 stores. It is due to open in 2010.

A little further down the line, Eastgate Quarter – a project between Hammerson and Town Centre Securities – will be a redevelopment of existing space in the Eastgate and Harewood Quarters of the city that will total 1.2 million sq ft (111,490 sq m) when it is complete, which is scheduled to be in 2012. The centre will be anchored by a 280,000 sq ft (26,000 sq m) John Lewis and a 196,450 sq ft (18,250 sq m) Marks & Spencer store, both of which signed this year.

The two new giants may be at opposite ends of the city – Eastgate Quarter will sit northeast of the centre and Trinity Leeds to the southwest – but, in retail terms, they will be very close. Inevitably, there will be a degree of scrapping over the same retailers, which is good news in many ways because it will be a tenant’s market.

“There will be some crossover,” says Land Securities project director of Trinity Leeds Bob de Barr. “But I don’t think we’re going head to head. Our research indicates that there is space for both schemes.”

Not everyone is so sure. According to Henderson, the two centres could change the dynamics of the city for the worse and bring too big a wave of retail in one go.

“There’s a lot of middle-range and high-end fashion that’s being planned [in the new centres] and it’s a question of whether the rest of the city will cope,” Henderson says. “Normally there would be one big scheme coming into a market like this.

“At the moment, retailers are having to reduce their plans for Leeds city centre. Because of the way Leeds will be spread out, with a big scheme at each end, retailers are going to have to decide either to put two stores in the town, or chose between the schemes.”

Quality over quantity

But there are many who say that new retail space is more than welcome. Indeed, according to King Sturge northern division head Jonathan Newnes it is just what retail in Leeds needs.

The problem, according to Newnes, is quality not quantity. The city is undeniably crowded, but he says the space on offer has fallen behind the evolving demands of retailers.

“One of the problems Leeds has is that while it has a strong retail provision, the size of the units in the city centre rarely meets retailers’ requirements,” he explains. “What these two schemes will do is bring well-configured, decent-sized units.”
Commercial Street and Briggate, particularly the former, have slightly lost their way in retail terms because they can’t give the top brands exactly what they want.

A lot of the units on Commercial Street lie empty and others have been taken over by independents, coffee shops and mobile phone retailers that are happy to have the smaller stores. But for the larger multiples and local retailers with a view to expansion, Trinity Leeds can’t come soon enough, says Newnes. “Trinity Leeds will satisfy a number of the requirements for the retailers looking to expand in Leeds,” he says.
When survival is the name of the game for most retailers, medium- to long-term store openings are hardly the number one priority. But some of the city’s top retailers have outgrown their stores. And when retail starts to see the light at the end of the tunnel, expansion will once again be a priority.

When that time comes, these and other big names will want large modern space that suits the next phase of growth in the market. The firmest sign that retailers have confidence in Leeds’ future is that top names Marks & Spencer and – in the past six months – John Lewis have signed for space at the Eastgate Quarter.

A centre can’t do much better than getting such names on board before construction has even begun, and while people will clearly be tentative about signing over the next two years, the pull of these stores is bound to prevail eventually.

John Lewis director of development Jeremy Collins says: “The projects due for Leeds are mainly about renovating existing space; it’s not so much about creating new space. I think there’s certainly room for both centres. Eastgate is very large, but we think it takes the city to the level of provision that you really expect for a city of Leeds’ size and regional importance.”

On the surface it seems questionable for another two large schemes to join the party in Leeds. But when you look a little deeper it’s clear that while the city may well be, as Experian has said, over capacity, it’s not full of the space that retailers really want.
What Eastgate Quarter and Trinity Leeds will do, if all goes well, is cater to their changing demands. The presence of John Lewis gives people confidence that Hammerson will deliver, at least at this early stage.

But let’s not forget what’s coming between now and the openings of Trinity Leeds and the Eastgate Quarter. With ONS figures last week showing the economy is shrinking, a recession is all but official and retailers know the worst is yet to come. So they are likely to remain on the fence as long as possible before signing on the dotted line – especially when for both big schemes to succeed it will mean many retailers having to take a second store in Leeds, as M&S has done.
“The market will dictate how the requirements turn out as everyone gets used to a recessionary economy,” says Crosby Lend Lease commercial lettings director Simon Kidd. “The big question is, can Leeds be like Manchester – where retailers are happy to double up on their stores? With the new developments coming in retailers might say that if the demand is there they can open a second store.”

A scheme is only as necessary as the demand there is for it. Hats off to both sets of developers for pledging to bring fresh, quality space to Leeds. But it is likely to be a tough battle over the next four years and convincing retailers to take space in these schemes may be easier said than done. schemes may be easier said than done.

SINCE WE LAST VISITED

Preparation work has begun on Westfield’s latest shopping centre development in Bradford. The£320 million centre situated in the middle of the city is already about half let, with retailers including Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Next, Topshop and Topman taking space.

In Rotherham, Iliad has submitted plans for the next phase of development on its All Saints scheme in the city centre. The plans include 12,000 sq ft (1,115 sq m) of retail and 33,000 sq ft (3,065 sq m) of office space around All Saints Square. The project has also involved the redevelopment of the Old Market Building, which was completed earlier in the year and provided 44 flats and ground floor retail. The Imperial Building has been completed in the past year too, comprising 16,990 sq ft (1,580 sq m) of retail space.

Architects have been appointed to draw up plans on Hammerson’s Sevenstone development in Sheffield.
A compulsory purchase order has been granted for the scheme in the past year, but the start date for work on the development has been put back to summer 2009 after the work was originally intended to begin this year. Part of the project – the relocation of the fire station – was completed this year.