Has the redevelopment of Weston's Dolphin Square been a success?
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 February 2019
Has the long-awaited redevelopment of Weston's Dolphin Square given the town a much-needed boost, or has it culminated in something 'a long way removed from the catalytic change' promised a decade ago?
The multi-million-pound leisure complex finally opened little more than 12 months ago after years of delays, with hopes of driving the revitalisation of the town centre.
Home to a cinema, gym, climbing centre and a mix of chain restaurants, Dolphin Square has attracted tens of thousands of people – but has it delivered the desired impact to the town’s economy?
McLaren Life and North Somerset Council worked in unison on the £45million project, with aspirations of luring big-name retailers to Weston.
The retailers were not forthcoming, though, leading to the plans being scaled back and prompting questions if Dolphin Square has met expectations.
Sue Shillabeer, president of Weston Chamber of Trade, believes Dolphin Square’s revamp has lured more people – both tourists and locals – to the town centre.
She said: “The restaurants, cinema and other offerings at Dolphin Square have been a positive addition to the town.
“The restaurants are busy, and the cinema and climbing centre are attracting people to Weston.
“The area feels safe to walk around late at night and easy access to Carlton Street car park and public transport means it is easy to get to. It’s making Weston a go-to destination and encouraging visitors and locals to come into town.”
The development has had a positive impact on Weston, yet been underwhelming in some ways, according to Central ward representative Mike Bell.
Cllr Bell said: “Dolphin Square was a long-time coming and overall the development has been good, creating jobs and enhancing the leisure offer in central Weston.
“It has been great to see the various outlets busy for much of the year, and a positive knock on effect for other businesses.
“However, it is disappointing we never got the bowling alley or a single one of the retail outlets that we were promised. We still have empty units.
“The council’s plan is to deliver more than 100 apartments on the undeveloped bit with some ‘non-residential’ uses on the ground floor, a long way removed from what was sold to the town as a catalytic change 10 years ago.”
Weston’s business are being ‘inconvenienced’ and held back by delays to the Dolphin Square housing project.
Central ward councillor Richard Nightingale is unhappy with the ongoing issues affecting the final phase of the development.
Homes England, the Government house-building quango, will build more than 100 flats adjacent to the leisure complex, but businesses have complained of disruption caused by the holdups.
Cllr Nightingale said: “The Dolphin Square development was designed to be a cornerstone of our town’s regeneration, however the development will never reach its potential until the work is complete.
“Residents and retailers in the area have been inconvenienced while the work has been ongoing.
“I wrote to Homes England last month and made it clear any delay is unacceptable.”
North Somerset Council’s view
The Dolphin Square development has attracted more youngsters to the town centre, according to North Somerset Council.
The council worked with McLaren Life on the leisure phase of the complex and it believes the mixture of leisure offerings at Dolphin Square is a pivotal part of the town’s regeneration as retail spending declines.
A spokesman said: “Dolphin Square is aimed towards young people and families who previously would not have visited the town centre as much as they do now.
“As buying habits continue to change, shoppers are looking towards a visitor experience.
“Leisure activities, such as the cinema, restaurants, gym and climbing are attractive to consumers, which is evident from the positive visitor numbers.
“Having national names at Dolphin Square in the town centre is an attractive incentive for visitors, residents and investors and compliments the local independent offer.”
What does the public think?
While council bosses believe the revamp of Dolphin Square has given the town centre the desired boost, the true judge of the development’s success is the people of Weston.
The leisure hub has certainly bolstered the range of restaurants in the town centre, and Cineworld and Clip n Climb have had thousands of customers walk through their doors.
But has the long-awaited redevelopment, after years of delays and disappointment, finally succeeded in winning over Westonians?
We asked Mercury readers for their thoughts.
Pam Davies wrote: “Any innovation to a dying town centre is welcome in my opinion. I love Loco Mexicano and the cinema is great. I’m looking forward to my children being old enough to go to Clip n Climb.”
John Cadwallader commented: “After a year, there are still units for rent. The previous Dolphin Square had shops, an indoor market, a bowling alley and a community living above.
“It’s all gone for a glittering metal box of overpriced food outlets and a pricey cinema.”
Pam Edwards said: “It’s a complete waste of money; it’s just café after café. We need shops not that rubbish.”
Peter Watts wrote: “The recent development was a big factor in my choice to relocate to Weston.
“The gym, while expensive, is good and open 24/7. Weston now has a top notch cinema and some great restaurants and Luda has quickly become a great haven from screaming children if wanting a quiet drink.”
Leslie Cox commented: “I think Dolphin Square Market did a lot more for Weston than this complex ever will. I have never been in there and no I have no desire to.”
Nick Grimsley said: “It’s a great place, just what Weston badly needed. There’s an excellent cinema, I’ve joined the really decent gym there and use the restaurants regularly.
“Weston’s been crying out for this kind of thing for years, it’s so nice not to have to go to Cribbs or Taunton now for this kind of evening.”
Rob Dumbarton wrote: “I have never been in there, and I don’t intend to. The building is a monstrosity, an eyesore, a blot on the landscape of beautiful architecture of the town.”
In an online poll, 41 per cent of Mercury readers said the development was a success.