Land Securities’ £100 million planning application to redevelop Liverpool’s St John’s Centre, featured in last week’s Retail Week, isn’t the type of development story you see too often these days.
Unusually in these times of glitzy schemes that aim to transform city centres, this project has no ambitions to bring in John Lewis, House of Fraser or Debenhams as anchors.
The existing centre is anchored by Wilkinson, Argos and Woolworths, and that’s just how Land Securities likes it, serving what development director Nick Davis calls the city’s “prevailing CDE demographic”.
It stands to reason that those retailers offering value for money tend to fare better in downturns – witness the stunning performance of value grocery retailers such as Aldi, Lidl and Iceland – but traditionally people who shop in value stores have had to endure a dismal shopping experience.
But just because a centre is secondary, shoppers should not have to expect the kind of environments that many second-tier shopping centres provide. It is a basic right of a retailer that, if they are tenants of any sort of managed environment, their shoppers should feel safe and comfortable and to be in an environment that is clean, bright and welcoming.
Too many schemes fall down on this score at present. But with shoppers of all sorts of backgrounds – not just from lower socio-economic groups – now being attracted by the stunning offers provided by many value retailers, a decent environment is the bare minimum they will expect. Unthreatening car parks, decent toilets and play facilities for kids should be the norm, not the exception.
Land Securities isn’t the first retailer to go down this road – The Mall has been working hard to brighten up its portfolio of centres, many of which are in less glamorous locations. But the fact that the UK’s biggest property company is going down this road gives a good idea of the direction in which the market is going.