Sovereign Centros CEO Comments On Scrapping Of Plans For Croydon’s Town Centre19th August 2021
From 2013 when the original scheme was put together and granted planning consent, there has been constant attention and adaption to the design and the components for the development as the retail landscape changed.
The fundamentals for the original development were sound. Croydon needed a modern contemporary shopping centre of scale with strong anchors with a regional draw and good connectivity in an area of expanding population. The problem today however, is that 1.5 million sq ft of new space in 250-300 unit shops with two department stores is neither sustainable nor implementable.
Covid has clearly played its part to a degree, but the fundamentals of two department stores focussed on John Lewis and Marks & Spencer was not going to be sound. The former, as we all know, is going through a major period of change and it’s highly unlikely they will take department stores again in their old original format. Their recent closures have confirmed that. The latter, in Marks & Spencer, who have an existing store but decided to take a new one, again are a retailer deciding how to shape their future and probably don’t command the same clout that they did 10 years ago in terms of their anchorage for a new development.
The fact that there will have been strong demand from within the fashion sector for best-in-class stores is probably not questioned but this too will have changed in terms of their specific requirements in today’s market. Retail is becoming very polarised. The big fashion operators who will be the new anchors going forward will take fewer and bigger stores in dominant locations to the detriment of their weaker counterparts. Some of these key fashion occupiers have disappeared in the recent past – Arcadia being a good example – but there are plenty of others that still exist who will have requirements for Croydon but probably in a different format today. The same can be said for leisure operators which would have been a key component of the new scheme. There will undoubtedly still be demand from cinema as well as food and beverage operators, but any new scheme will need to go back to the drawing board and be fundamentally revisited.
I suspect that Croydon’s future will be much more about shopping centre repositioning and repurposing rather than redevelopment. With hindsight one might look back and argue that this will turn out to be the best solution for Croydon with a refocussed approach on its town centre.
Major new comprehensive retail development, both in town and out of town in the UK will be few and far between. There are still one or two locations where this will happen where there is a lack of supply and competition, a strong catchment with spend to support it and recognition amongst retailers that there is a gap in their presence where they will make profits.
Repurposing and remodelling will be the predominant way forward. The existing dominant out of town and city centres will thrive and prosper if they can satisfy the requirements of their key tenants and recognise that these locations need to offer a mix of different uses. As a consequence, they will become destinations with a truly mixed offer – as opposed to just a shopping centre. If landlords don’t adapt and recognise this, their centres will not survive.
Anyone that says that online will kill bricks and mortar doesn’t understand UK retail. Smart landlords will embrace online and develop click and collect/interactive solutions. The UK is a nation of shoppers who want to be entertained.
Hopefully Croydon will find its feet and come up with a clever solution to reorientate and reinvigorate its town centre offer which will inevitably comprise a mix of uses with less emphasis on pure retail but a modernisation of what is there and with a heavy leisure and food and beverage component.