Developers quash fears over Dolphin Square retail

The new-look Dolphin Square.

The new-look Dolphin Square. - Credit: Archant

SEVERAL councillors fear shops will never be built at Dolphin Square despite a ‘positive’ decision being made regarding its future this week.

Members of North Somerset Council’s south area committee are concerned no big name retailers will ever commit to the £45million project, which involves building on the site of the former indoor market and other nearby buildings.

Developer McLaren Life and some councillors remain confident retailers will sign up once ‘imperative’ building work begins on the leisure sector, although a number now openly question when, or even if, retailers will sign up to the project.

The committee gave McLaren Life the green light to split the leisure and retail sectors into different phases this week, allowing it to get the leisure attractions open as soon as possible.

It is three years ago this week a deal was struck with Vue Cinemas to provide a multiplex cinema and although Cineworld has since taken on the lease, not a single retailer has signed up to the project during that period.

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Cllr John Crockford-Hawley, although in favour of the development, was one of the members to raise concerns McLaren Life may not build any shops, at least in the near future.

He said: “By concentrating all the leisure facilities in the one sector, the mall, splitting the two sectors, will never be a mall until the next phase is developed.

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“Does anyone have any confidence that will actually come to pass?

“I suspect we won’t get any development in that section for some time.”

Cllr Robert Payne agreed and suggested an alternative needed to be considered.

He said: “I think the fact that the developers have managed to attract the leisure operators but not the retailers underlines that retail is changing and people don’t go into town centres for shopping as they did a few years ago.

“I think if we spread the leisure facilities and abandoned the retail altogether we could have a much more attractive development.”

McLaren Life built the car park in Carlton Street and the Premier Inn hotel and has promised to build leisure facilities in the third phase of the project on the Union Street side of the site, and shops in the fourth.

Work on the cinema, a 20-lane 10-pin bowling centre, six restaurants, two small retail units and a gym is set to begin in the new year.

Phase four – once tenants are agreed – would begin after the cinema and other attractions are open.

Cllr Tony Lake said he did not share the pessimism of some councillors although concedes a retail-only phase four was not a certainty.

He said: “One of the things McLaren Life has said is that we need momentum and establishing this hopefully gives it that.

“I’m hopeful that we will see activities, although maybe not retail, coming to the site.”

McLaren Life say it is ‘committed’ to bringing retail to Weston although Cllr Crockford-Hawley said its confidence is similar to developers and councillors had back in the 1950s, when the previous retail square was built and some units were unfilled.

Cllr Elfan Ap Rees said the Dolphin Square deal was ‘imperative’ for Weston’s long-term future.

He said: “I think it will demonstrate to prospective retailers this is happening and they should join us.

“It’s fair to say retail is changing but it’s still popular. People still want to see what they are buying.”

Cllr Mike Bell, leader of the Liberal Democrat group within North Somerset, added: “I think we should be positive about this development as the alternative is nothing happens and it stays a vacant plot, adding nothing to the town.”

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