Cribbs Causeway expansion plans ‘a wake up call’
James Edwards from Colliers International discusses the Cribbs Causeway expansion. He is widely regarded as one of the West’s foremost commentators on planning and heritage issues.
Here he argues that small towns across North Somerset shouldn’t waste their efforts trying to curb the expansion out of town shopping centres – but re-double their efforts to improve their own unique shopping experience.
Cribbs Causeway expansion
Expansion plans at the Mall at Cribbs Causeway are a wake up call for Somerset towns struggling to preserve the viability of their High Streets, according to Colliers International planning and heritage specialist James Edwards.
The controversial proposals to expand Cribbs Causeway by two-thirds are presently being discussed by South Gloucestershire Council and the planning inspectorate.
The plan has triggered angry reaction across the West with objectors claiming the planned expansion would result in reducing trade in Weston-super-Mare by 11 per cent and in Bristol by 10 per cent.
But James Edwards said smaller town traders could not simply cross their fingers and hope the Cribbs Causeway scheme is thrown out.
He said: “The typical town in Somerset should not be distracted by what might happen twenty miles away. Out of town shopping centres such as Cribbs Causeway will continue to lure shoppers away from our local high streets, whether this particular plan is approved or not.
“Towns should be focussing on what they can do to increase the appeal of their own high street retail experience rather than worry about the expansion of centres like the Mall, which are largely out of their control.”
The Bristol-based planner was a vocal campaigner on behalf of the five Somerset towns bidding for their share of the Mary Portas Town Centre funds.
Chard, Wellington, Taunton, Wincanton and Burnham made unsuccessful bids for their share of the £1.2m ‘Town Team’ pot while Bedminster in Bristol and Liskeard in Cornwall were among the 12 successful applicants.
But James Edwards admitted the £100,000 cash injection on offer may not be enough to halt the decline of Somerset’s High Streets – even if the bids had been successful.
He said: “Town councillors and traders across Somerset must develop their niche offering with visitor-friendly strategies including regular markets and a strong range of independent shops to create a personable shopping experience if they were to compete with the larger out of town centres.”
The recently released Colliers International Midsummer Retail Review revealed that our of 36 West towns surveyed prime rents were stable in 20 and dropping in 14.
But he said there had been a small rise in rents in Taunton and a dramatic 45 per cent rise in Wells.
“Wells enjoys both geographic and demographic advantages over some of the Somerset towns which did not perform anywhere near as well. It is able to draw upon a fairly wealthy population who would find the drive out to Cribbs Causeway something of a challenge given the poor motorway connections from that side of the county.”
He said the fact many of the North Somerset towns surveyed enjoyed excellent motorway connections had proved to be a disadvantage, drawing trade out of the local centres and away to the out of town precincts.
Their High Streets had faced a double whammy – coping with the effects of the downturn as well as strongly performing and highly accessible out of town centres.
James Edwards said: “The fact is that if it’s not Cribbs Causeway it will be somewhere else – Bristol city centre, Cardiff, Gloucester and Swindon all have popular shopping malls and small town traders must ask themselves why customers are going elsewhere?”
“I believe their best course would be to look at the success of Wells and replicate the shopping experience there as far as possible, concentrating on offering a range of interesting independent shops set in a characterful and relaxing setting.”
Plans under discussion for the Mall include almost 115,000 sq ft of additional floor space in order to ‘safeguard its long term future.’
But Bristol City Council claimed the owners had not considered the likely impact of the expansion plan across high street shopping centres.
The Dolphin Square shopping centre development in Weston-super-Mare along with Cabot Circus and the Mall in Broadmead, Bristol, have also objected to the plans.