Major expansion on the horizon for shopping centre?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:54 20 May 2016
Weston-super-Mare's Sovereign Shopping Centre could be in line for a major expansion which would see two floors of restaurants built overlooking the town square.
Vixcroft, the firm which bought the centre for £30million in January 2015, has this week revealed its ambition to build a two-storey extension facing the Italian Gardens.
Company chief executive Dan Carter has kept plans under wraps since buying the centre, now says he hopes to fill the extension with restaurants, revamp the landscaping and add seating for outdoor dining.
But he simultaneously condemned proposals to expand Cribbs Causeway near Bristol – warning it could ‘undermine the viability of Weston town centre’.
More a year since first revealing his hopes to expand and invest in the shopping centre, Mr Carter spoke to the Mercury about his plan to ‘reinvigorate’ the High Street mall – including a re-think of the 1990s canopy facing the town square.
He said: “We want to extend the centre on the north side and create a round of restaurants fronting the town square.
“I think the elevation facing north is not inspiring.
“I am envisaging restaurants at ground and first floor, so double-height elevation, high-quality external seating and external quality landscaping so when there would be appropriate weather they can sit outside.”
Mr Carter says the plans to ‘extend the centre and enhance its restaurant offer’ will also ‘benefit to the town’s wider visitor economy’, but added: “The delivery of this development entails the resolution of complexities often associated with development in town centre locations.”
But the big ideas do not stop there, as Mr Carter says Vixcroft will also invest in aesthetic improvements, particularly ‘improving the access towards the pier’.
He said: “We are also working up to plans for a reinvigoration of the catering area, currently occupied by Druckers. Druckers would stay in the area, which would be refurbished, and a couple of complementary offers to create more choice.”
But Mr Carter warned all the hard work being carried out behind the scenes to bring in new restaurants and shops could be scuppered by plans to extend Cribbs Causeway.
South Gloucestershire Council is deciding whether to allow almost 60,000 sqm – more than eight football pitches – of restaurants, cafés, pubs, hotels and leisure facilities to be added to The Mall, as well as a bus station, cycle bridge and events space for concerts, food festivals and markets.
Mr Carter warns the project could be ‘very damaging’ to Weston.
He said: “By any standards, this is a massive proposal which would attack the delicate balance which exists between Weston and Cribbs Causeway, undermine the viability of Weston town centre, and wreck North Somerset Council’s plans for the regeneration of the town centre.
“If permitted, the proposal would further increase the dominance of Cribbs Causeway and significantly alter the delicate, even fragile hierarchical balance that exists between Cribbs and Bristol City Centre, and other centres such as Weston.”
However, Mr Carter told the Mercury Vixcroft is ‘very supportive’ of McLaren Life’s development of Dolphin Square – which he says will ‘complement the Sovereign Centre’ to offer ‘brands which are currently not available in the town’.
Yet while he is still committed to bringing in big-name brands and has set aside ‘considerable resources to improve the retail offering’, he warned the investment in Dolphin Square and Sovereign Centre could all be hindered if big brands are tempted elsewhere.
He said: “Vixcroft is playing an important role in assisting the economic development of Weston.
“There is also the threat that the granting of planning permission (for Cribbs) might make those who might have considered establishing a presence in Weston think twice because of likely lower returns if greater numbers of shoppers are likely to shop elsewhere.
“Despite the investment that we and McLaren are making, the future of Weston town centre still needs very careful stewardship.”