Out-of-town retailing, whether through mega malls or retail parks, has been the focus of retailers’ expansion for the past two decades. But the balance is starting to shift.

The woes of those retail parks restricted to selling bulky goods such as furniture have been well documented. But, according to Marks & Spencer chief executive Sir Stuart Rose, rising fuel costs are hitting the out-of-town shopping centres too.

Giant regional shopping centres such as Bluewater and the Trafford Centre rely on drawing shoppers from huge catchment areas to sustain them. But it stands to reason that at a time when it costs a fortune to fill up the car, shoppers will be reluctant to drive long distances, particularly as the chances are that they won’t have as much to spend when they arrive.

On the same day that Rose spoke, Bluewater issued a press release claiming that its “specialty sales” (sic) were up 3.3 per cent in May. Apparently fashion sales were up 10 per cent and jewellery sales up 15 per cent on last year.

But most people in retail who aren’t familiar with this new concept of “specialty sales” will probably take more heed of John Lewis reporting sales down 7.6 per cent last week and 5.4 per cent so far this financial year in its Bluewater store.

The Bluewaters, Meadowhalls, Trafford Centres and Metro Centres of this world are great developments and have created environments that have transformed shopping in the UK. But they can’t buck the market and for the time being at least mega trips to mega malls are going to be out of fashion.

Values will be hit and landlords will have to take some pain. The question is whether they will have the foresightedness to work with their tenants through the downturn, not against them.

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