An urban farm and neighbourhood kitchen at Luton's The Mall? C&R unveils radical plans for digital age

The owner of Luton's The Mall has unveiled radical plans for empty spaces in the shopping centre and car park to be transformed into tech-enabled "neighbourhood hubs".

Monday, 8th March 2021, 11:27 am
An artist's design of REEF's neighbourhood kitchen (NBRHD) concept

The Mall owners Capital & Regional (C&R) announced their partnership with US technology firm REEF, with plans to overhaul shopping centres in Luton and Wood Green.

According to C&R, the "underutilised elements" of the car parks and shopping centres will be transformed into mixed-use neighbourhood hubs, offering tech-enabled services including:

> Neighbourhood (NBRHD) kitchens - which will provide delivery-only services for customers from online restaurant brands. REEF is set to announce a number of new restaurant partners that will be joining its delivery-only platform.

Empty car park space would be used to provide new logistic services

> Urban farms - will entail growing crops in vertically stacked layers in a controlled environment. This will aim to satisfy demand from businesses and consumers for products that are locally grown and more environmentally friendly, being less reliant on long supply chains

> Last mile logistics - providing storage and fulfilment, as well as digital lockers. All goods and services are delivered in an environmentally conscious way, with REEF’s couriers and e-scooter cargo fleet delivering packages to homes and businesses.

> Smart transit and eco-friendly commuting – including e-bikes, e-scooter rental stations, electric vehicle charging, and digitalised car park management.

Lawrence Hutchings, chief executive of C&R said: "While we fully understand the important role our centres continue to play as physical destinations, we are also acutely aware of the need to innovate and embrace the benefits of technology to ensure they fulfil their potential to play a vital role in the growing digitalisation of local economies – which has accelerated in the last year.

REEF offer E-bike rental services

"Our centres are perfectly placed, given their town-centre location, to provide a range of supply chain, processing, final mile and micro logistics and storage services that will bring new jobs, services and experiences to their local area to enhance the lives of all those who live and work there.

“REEF is at the very forefront of delivering these services and through this innovative new partnership can leverage its technology, experience and environmentally friendly working practices from the US and apply these to under-utilised space in our car parks and centres, transforming them into neighbourhood hubs that makes a positive contribution to the local community and economy.

"We believe this innovative new agreement provides a blueprint for how community shopping centres can fully embrace and benefit from the digital economy in the future, while continuing to fulfil the vital role as physical destinations.”

C&R was mired in controversy after a public spat with 2020 Developments over the latter's plans for a new stadium at Power Court, as well an out-of-town development at Newlands Park. C&R gave up its opposition to the plans after the rejection of its judicial review in January last year.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Mall supported over 2,000 jobs in Luton town centre and it remains a key employer in the local economy. Luton Today has approached Luton Borough Council and constituency MP Rachel Hopkins for their reaction to C&R's latest plans.

Barak Zimerman, European managing director for REEF, added: “We’re excited to be partnering with C&R across its portfolio to help enhance the value of its retail assets. The need to adapt and transform retail has never been greater.

"Our leading proximity platform will enable C&R to plug into our ecosystem of alternative use case partnerships and drive its assets recovery as businesses evolve post-pandemic. REEF will drive commercial value and better serve the local neighbourhoods and communities with our last mile logistics and mobility solutions.

"We’re looking forward to reimagining how REEF and Capital & Regional’s parking real estate can provide innovative ways to better serve the local neighbourhood."