Square may attract smaller shops, not retail giants

Weston High Street.

Weston High Street. - Credit: Archant

WESTON may never see retail giants such as River Island, Debenhams or Primark in the High Street, for fears the move would ‘cannibalise’ existing trade.

Other retailers of this stature may not even open stores in out-of-town retail parks as they view Weston as ‘lower in the priority list’ than other areas.

One national name has the town so far down its priority list it could be six years before it starts looking at opening a store in the area.

This view comes from retail property consultant Richard Macarthur, director at Bristol-based firm Macarthur Wilson, who has been trying to fill an empty unit at Flowerdown Retail Park since the summer of 2012.

Last week, the Mercury revealed how Marks & Spencer has applied for planning permission to open a Simply Food store in the former Comet unit.

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In documents submitted with the planning application, Mr Macarthur said: “There are a number of retailers who are not present in Weston but who are currently active in the market. That is the effect of Cribbs Causeway.

“Many of the retailers believe that Cribbs Causeway covers the Weston catchment and therefore feel opening a store in this location is only going to cannibalise existing trade.

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“In addition there are retailers such as Decathlon, Nike, Debenhams, Primark, who although they are active in the out-of-town market are not represented at Cribbs Causeway let alone a conurbation lower in the priority list like Weston.” His view would appear to be borne out by the difficulties McLaren Life has experienced securing retailers for its new £45million Dolphin Square regeneration.

The project won planning permission back in 2011, but blueprints have since been revised as no shops have yet signed up to the scheme.

Mr Macarthur said Bath, which has a similar population to Weston, has only 40,000 sq ft of warehouse units compared to Weston’s 590,000 sq ft.

He said: “One of the other effects of the town having a supply of 590,000 ft sq is that virtually all the established retailers who take warehouse retail space are already present in the town.

“Although Hobbycraft have a published requirement for Weston it became apparent from our discussions that this town was so far down their priority list that we could be waiting for another six years before they started looking at the town in detail and even then no guarantee as to their size requirement.”

Town centre manager Steve Townsend said in 20 years, all national chains could be in out-of-town units, but the town centre could instead be used by independent retailers.

He said: “I think we are quite well served out of town.

“The high street is evolving and it’s going to change and all national chains will be out of town with independent retailers in the town centre.

“We could see more residential areas and coffee shops in the town centre, but hopefully it could become more social as well.”

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