Shopping for something different: the future of shopping centres in London

On September 6, 2023, Property X-Change attended the ‘Future of shopping centres’ retail event, hosted by Business LDN. The event served as a platform for informative debate, shedding light on topics related to the evolving nature of shopping centres, in response to changing retail trends, and their potential impact on urban landscapes. Read on for a detailed summary of the event and its key insights.

Words by Harry Steele (Programme Director for Planning and Development at BusinessLDN) and Virginia Blackman (Principal, National Head Site Assembly & Compulsory Purchase at Avison Young).

London’s retail sector has experienced significant change in recent years as the pandemic helped to accelerate the shift in consumer behaviour and the sector has sought to respond to this. Amidst this backdrop, BusinessLDN and Avison Young, with the support of Property X-Change brought together an expert panel to discuss the future of London’s shopping centres. The wide range of interest in this subject from investors, asset managers, developers and the public sector was demonstrated in the audience in the room.

Kim Grieveson, Principal at Avison Young set the scene for the panel discussion, highlighting the changing perception of retail alongside the current trends in the market. Whilst many retail spaces are facing challenges, there is plenty to be optimistic about, from new and exciting retail centres to the repurposing of existing spaces.

Sam Cotton, Head of Asset Management & Leasing at Battersea Power Station, reiterated the company’s firm belief in the future of retail and the importance of creating a ‘destination’ that appeals to both local residents and consumers. Battersea Power Station’s successes reinforce the importance of diverse and flexible spaces that can meet a range of needs. Sam also spoke about the interconnected nature of a space like Battersea Power Station, with the retail offerings enticing residential and commercial occupiers which in turn provide significant footfall for the retail occupiers.

The panel reiterated the importance of challenging the norm in shopping centres. Offering flexible lease structures, pairing independent retailers alongside global brands and sharing data can all help to deliver success for shopping centres.

Mike Nisbet, Head of Development - Urban Regeneration at Landsec, spoke about the repurposing of shopping centres to ensure that they can serve the evolving needs of their local communities. Whilst there are many obstacles to repurposing a shopping centre, these projects can help to reshape whole neighbourhoods for the better.

Redeveloping and regenerating shopping centres has an effect on both the spaces in question but also on the wider landscape. With that in mind, the speakers highlighted the importance of both effective community engagement and a pragmatic and progressive local authority to shape these spaces for the better.

Whilst the repurposing of shopping centres is a growing trend, Virginia Blackman, Principal at Avison Young, highlighted the challenges that these projects face. From the front loading of costs and the complexity of vacant possession strategies to the intricacy in valuing sites; there are many obstacles that must be overcome. Despite this, done well, repurposing will deliver enhanced asset value and crucially help to regenerate the wider town centre and local economy.

The panel also highlighted the opportunity for meanwhile uses during both the development of new shopping centres and the redevelopment of existing retail spaces. These meanwhile uses often provide exciting and important test beds for local businesses to take their first steps into commercial spaces. Meanwhile uses continue to be an important cornerstone to any long-term regeneration strategy but it is imperative that they are founded on clear stakeholder engagement and are reflective of the needs of the community.

Whilst shopping centres have gone through a significant and accelerated period of change in recent years, the panel gave many reasons to remain optimistic about future for these spaces as the sector continues to evolve. The clear message was that shopping centres are here for the long-term, but it will be a 21st-century take on the asset incorporating a mix of uses, inclusive and fresh design, while still providing core services to the local community.  

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