Hatters’ Newlands Park could attract luxury retailers that wouldn’t come to Luton town centre, according to independent retail impact report

An overview of the plans for Newlands Park
An overview of the plans for Newlands Park

An independent retail impact assessment of Luton Town’s Newlands Park development has concluded that the scheme will potentially attract luxury retailers that won’t want to set up in the town centre.

Luton Borough Council commissioned Chase and Partners to assess the impact of the Newlands project and the consultants’ report has now been released.

The Hatters say Newlands Park is needed to fund its stadium plans at Power Court. The planning applications for the schemes were submitted in August 2016, but have yet to be voted on by councillors.

The site near J10 of the M1 would boast 42,000sq metres of office space, 13,000sq metres of hotel accommodation, and 16,000sq metre of leisure, but it’s the 37,000sq metres for retail that is of most concern to objectors such as The Mall Luton owners Capital & Regional.

The report states that Luton town centre trades “relatively well” and points to key tenants being Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Primark, H&M, New Look, River Island and Top Shop.

It points out that much of the retail in Luton town centre is aimed at the mass market, with few luxury brand/aspiration firms which would be target tenants for Newlands Park.

The report, redacted in many places, also includes a list of 220 permitted users for Newlands. It had been proposed that 85% of Newlands retailers coming from this permitted ‘high quality’ list, but Chase and Partners suggest that figure should drop to 65-75% to give the new facility a sound base to ensure full letting allowing more ‘mass market’ occupiers.

The document continues: “Retail demand for Luton town centre is limited... and from the ‘permitted users’ list, where there is not existing representation, is almost nil.

“Subject to the right anchor tenants being secured there appears to be sufficient support from luxury brand/aspirational retailers for the concept.”

But it warns that the Newlands scheme is likely to need anchoring by mass market fashion retailers such as House of Fraser (suggested as the lead candidate for Newlands), Next and Marks and Spencer, for the luxury retailers identified on the ‘permitted user’ list to be attracted. It says the loss of such businesses from the town centre would be a “real risk”.

For that reason the report says five-year ‘non-poaching” agreements should be put in place to stop them leaving the town centre and recommends that legal advice is taken to establish the enforceabilty of such contracts.

It says the five-year agreement would give the town centre some stability and enable it to improve its competitiveness and trade more effectively against Newlands.

The report says it is unlikely Newlands Park will have any impact on Dunstable, Milton Keynes or Watford shopping centres, but says there is likely there will be some impact on Hatfield and Harpenden, and that the biggest impact will be on St Albans due to its weak retail profile and because of the relatively high number of business from the ‘permitted user’ list being in the city.

Chase and Partners also points out the well-documented challenges faced in the retail world, citing ToysRUs, Matalan, M&S, Next, New Look, Carpet Right, Moss Bros, Mothercare and Prezzo as companies facing challenging times,

But it adds: “On the other hand, the right property of the right size in the right place is highly sort after by retailers wishing to maximise their market share and reduce occupational costs.”

NOTE: Our initial article mentioned the Chase report as stating that Newlands would complement existing town centre retail. We have since had it clarified that Professor Graham Chase was summarising the rationale for the Newlands scheme as presented by 2020 Developments and this was not his own conclusion.

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