It was encouraging to see that Deloitte’s recent Annual Crane Survey declared a “building boom” of activity taking place across the UK’s leading regional cities, marked by construction reaching heights that haven’t been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.
As a large investor in retail property across a number of the UK’s largest cities, it perhaps came as little surprise since we’ve witnessed the UK wide economic recovery gathering pace for some time now. And while there is no doubt that the growth of the entire spectrum of sectors supports the continued prosperity of cities, the role that the right retail destinations can play in urban regeneration should not be overlooked or underestimated.
Retail-led regeneration has a profound impact on towns and cities, bringing back to life usually previously underutilised areas, transforming them into vibrant retail, leisure and dining hubs. Bullring, Birmingham is a prime example. 1960s Bullring was a struggling and unappealing building that failed to draw in both retailers and customers but it wasn’t until the end of the 20th Century that the power of placemaking came to the fore which led Hammerson to redevelop the centre into the iconic shopping centre it is today, creating a new landmark for the city that has played a fundamental part of a powerful new Birmingham.
The Deloitte survey highlighted Leeds as a city in which retail development led the construction landscape with over 600,000 sq ft of new development brought forward in 2016, and I suspect a large chunk of this space was Hammerson’s Victoria Gate development that launched in October last year. Leeds had long been identified as an development opportunity, with a chance to capture an estimated £600m of spend that was leaking out into the local catchment area, the potential to bring forward a scheme that would bring back people into the city was clear.
Supported by a welcoming and proactive city council keen to drive inward investment into an already dynamic and growing city, Hammerson comprehensively regenerated an area of the city that had been overlooked for too long, to deliver a game changing retail scheme that saw new retail brands debut in the city,1,500 jobs created and the city left with an iconic 21st century retail arcade that is an exceptional addition to Leeds’ rich merchandising and textile history. Now the largest premium retail and leisure venue in Northern England which also moved Leeds up to third in the UK’s best place to shop, it is no wonder that Victoria Gate has welcomed almost three million visitors since its launch.
Both of these examples clearly demonstrate how influential and uniquely placed the retail offer can be in making urban regeneration possible. Entire neighbourhoods can be revitalised with people encouraged to visit to shop, dine or relax and communities are reconnected to employment opportunities through improved career prospects in a new sector.
As we head into 2017, Hammerson will continue to utilise its retail development skills to create consumer-led destinations that improve and expand what is available to local communities, thereby playing an essential role in the regeneration of many more cities and towns and supporting the important resurgence of the UK’s regions.