This year’s World Retail Congress in Barcelona ended on Friday, closing three days of conferencing, networking and, it has to be said, a fair amount of evening carousing. But for those who wandered across the road into the adjacent Diagonal Mar shopping centre, there was an additional talking point.

Diagonal Mar is Catalonia’s biggest shopping scheme and opened in 2001. Since that time it has established itself as a destination that has been sought out by many of the great and good from Europe’s retailing fraternity, with names such as Fnac, Auchan (it trades as Alcampo in Spain) and Media Markt all taking space.

And all has gone well until last year when the crunch hit Spain.

For the WRC delegates who visited the centre, two things would have been apparent. There were fewer shoppers than the year before and a few voids had appeared. But if they entered via the mall’s southern-most doors they would have seen something else.

Primark is coming. The branded hoardings are up and last week news broke that Ireland’s rampaging discount retailer had signed for a 32,290 sq ft unit at Diagonal Mar. Just in time, some might say. The arrival will boost shopper traffic in the scheme to the benefit of all and has also filled what could have been an embarrassingly large empty space.

It is also interesting for no better reason that the mall’s owners have allowed in a retailer that is at odds with the mid-market tone of the other tenants that fill its interior. And yet it is perfectly consistent with what Primark has done elsewhere in Europe, where it has opted to take space in more upscale locations than might have been expected.

Now contrast this with the fuss surrounding TK Maxx and its proposal to open on Piccadilly Circus, currently under review by the Crown Estate – which has deemed it insufficiently posh for the area, apparently.

Whatever your views on the rights or wrongs of the dispute, there is a whiff of pragmatism about the Diagonal Mar deal that looks absent from the Piccadilly discussions. Okay, you might argue that putting TK Maxx in Piccadilly Circus would be like Barcelona’s city fathers agreeing to Primark opening up next door to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia masterpiece, yet even this could be done sensitively.

It’s a matter of establishing some ground rules and being aware of the needs of a location. And you can be certain that both Primark and TK Maxx will be aware of such constraints. That said, TK Maxx in Kensington still looks strange. 

Not being in the tech-savvy vanguard, I’ve finally taken the plunge and am now trying to provide regular updates on store design and associated topics via Twitter. If anyone’s interested (and there’s no particular reason why you should be), you can find this at <>  – I still can’t really work out the point of all of this, however.