Executive Summary – Key Outputs
To recap – the Masterplan identifies three phases of development:
A food store of 6,800sqm (2,600sqm at mezzanine level); a market of 4,356sqm; retail space of 6,270sqm; offices totalling 1,093sqm. An underground car park with 555 parking spaces (200 for food store). Sixty apartments.
A new hotel/JJB/offices/residential block; additional retail space of 1,425sqm; additional offices totalling 4,353 sqm. An additional eighty-five apartments.
A further ninety apartments.
Analysis – Retail Space totalling 7,695sqm
When Warrington became a New Town in 1968 its Development Corporation specifically encouraged the building of out of town retail areas accessed by new roads. The Gemini retail park, in particular, to the north-west of Warrington, today draws significant numbers of potential shoppers away from the town centre.
A Retail and Leisure Study (appendices) prepared for Warrington Borough Council in July 2006, identified the town centre’s main weakness as lack of diversity with 47% of the current shops being mainstream chain stores. Although the number of chain stores present is taken as an indicator of success in assessments of a town’s ‘health’, this does not take into consideration the needs of local small businesses and independent traders or that section of the community which prefers to support them.
Rents in Warrington were around £1,400 per square metre per year in 2006 which the report concludes ‘compares favourably’ with other towns in the region. In real terms, however, the independent retail trader faces around £30,000 a year minimum in rental for an average sized shop, favourable, perhaps, for a chain, but a considerable sum for a small business.
The Government Planning document PPS6 states that development plans should ‘meet qualitative gaps in existing provision’ (2.16) and ‘need to ensure genuine choice to meet the needs of the entire community’ (1.4) The Bridge Street Quarter is an excellent opportunity to widen consumer choice and support local independent traders and it will be interesting to see if and how the current development plans to do this.
It is unclear as to how many shops the allocated floor space represents or how they are to be distributed around the development. To put the figures into context, the old Co-op Bank on the west side of Bridge Street, on the corner of Rylands Street, is 605.7sqm and the old recruitment agency on the east side of lower Bridge Street is 164.7sqm. This would indicate possibly 12 medium sized shops or 46 small shops. Chain stores (or ‘multiples’) typically want 500-2,000sqm which assumes the lower number. Given the earlier assessment of rent levels in Warrington it seems unlikely that independent traders will have a presence.
Warrington has a population of around 180,000 (in 2006) but its close proximity to other urban centres means that it is in direct competition with catchment areas around Chester, Manchester, Liverpool and particularly the Trafford Centre. It cannot afford to just replicate the same mix of chains that other shopping areas are already offering on a larger scale. It must offer something different, a Unique Selling Point, that will draw shoppers specifically to Warrington rather than the wide alternative choices near at hand.
Points for Discussion – Retail Space 7,695sqm
There was 8,956sqm of vacant retail space in the town centre in 2006 and a similar situation appears to exist today. What is the rationale in building more retail space when so many shops in Warrington are already empty and have been so for a long period of time?
Out-of town locations are favoured by shoppers not just for their extensive free car parking but their ease of access by car. Congestion at Bridge Foot is already a problem and likely to increase with the new development. What plans have been made for addressing this?
With so many supermarkets now selling non-food items, how do you prevent the food store using their space for these in addition to food, thus undercutting shops in the town centre? Could this be the reason for the mezzanine floor?
What will be the effect on Warrington’s independent shops – will any units be reserved for independent businesses? How much will rents be?
What will be the impact on existing shopping centres in the town? Will it pull customers away from the main streets? the Cockhedge Centre? Golden Square?
How do you make sure the development complements the town’s other shopping areas rather than being seen as the preferred choice? Will businesses relocate to the Bridge Street Quarter from other areas in the town centre? Will it pull more businesses away from Warrington’s main streets?
How will offering alternative retail space in the area behind Bridge Street encourage businesses to take up empty retail space on Bridge Street? Is some sort of ripple effect intended? How will this work in practice?
Are most of the chain stores for Warrington’s demographic already represented in existing centres within the town? What other stores are likely to want to relocate or open a branch here? How do you control the type of shops that move in, to create the desired atmosphere?
Is the development intended to offer more choice to current shoppers or to attract new ones into the town? What does Warrington intend to offer that shoppers cannot get elsewhere? What has Warrington to offer retail businesses, in terms of potential customer numbers and demographic, that would interest them in opening a branch in the new development?