Stephen Salloway, Managing Director of Derby commercial property specialists Salloway Property Consultants, gives his take on the recent planning application by Intu to extend the retail centre's leisure facilities.
There can be little doubt that since its doors opened in 2007, the Westfield Centre, now Intu, has, on balance, been a good thing for Derby. The retail offer it provides has smashed Nottingham's previous East Midlands' dominance of the retail sector and Derby has become a true retail destination – indeed it has recently been named in the top 10 as an attraction for premium retailers.
However, and it is a big however, the opening of the centre did have a significantly detrimental impact on the vitality and desirability of the traditional retail core of Derby. Indeed, over the last seven or eight years since the arrival of Westfield, laudable initiatives like the Derby Cathedral Quarter and St. Peter's Quarter BID's have only slowly begun clawing the back activity to the traditional high street centred on locations such as the Market Place, Sadler Gate, St Peter's Street and Victoria Street.
Whilst strong attempts have been made to rebrand Derby's traditional retail areas as destinations for 'independent' shopping, there remains no doubt in my mind that Derby's centre, outside of Intu, remains depressed and needs a true boost – some worthwhile attractions to draw footfall and vitality.
It seems to me that potentially popular leisure facilities such as bowling and golf facilities which Intu are looking to introduce would be much be better used as 'anchor' or 'attractor' uses in the city away from Intu. The so-called shopping centre already has a cinema and a range of branded restaurants and extending its range of non-retail activities can only serve to further polarise the city centre. Surely the traditional high street is a needier recipient of such a planning consent and the footfall it will generate.
There are some obvious candidate commercial sites which could incorporate such uses as part of their redevelopment plans; the former Debenhams store, Duckworth Square, Riverlights, etc.
It has been shown in neighbouring Nottingham, with the maturing 'Corner House' scheme, that city centre leisure developments can be highly successful outside of shopping malls. Crucially, in doing so, they can make a significant contribution to the vitality of the traditional high street as well as the night-time economy.
I would ask City Council Planners and Members to consider the application carefully and take full account of the potential impact on the rest of the centre.