Questions asked about the real impact of Hatters’ Newlands Park scheme on Luton town centre

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

Claims by Capital & Regional that the retail impact of Luton Town’s proposed Newlands Park development will significantly harm the town centre have been called into question.

An independent retail impact assessment of Hatters’ scheme, which will help fund the planned Power Court stadium, was conducted for Luton Borough Council by WYG last year.

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters' Club, left, with Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters' Trust chairman. PHOTO COPYRIGHT LUTON NEWS

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters' Club, left, with Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters' Trust chairman. PHOTO COPYRIGHT LUTON NEWS

The club has previously pointed out that this report stated that the impact could vary between -1.1% and -7.9% depending on whether the potential retailer list for Newlands was heavily restricted to a list of “luxury” retailers and there was a non-poaching agreement to protect the town centre, or whether there were no restrictions at all.

That report was compiled when the Hatters plans involved 100% of potential occupiers being “luxury” retailers, since then the scheme has been amended to be 65% “luxury” and 35% “mass market” outlets. Therefore the club believes the impact will fall within the WYG range at around -2.9%.

Key objector Capital and Regional, owner of The Mall Luton, has consistently stated that the retail element at Newlands, which would also feature office and leisure space, would pose a significant threat to the town centre.

However the Luton News has been passed documents from June 2013 relating to the retail impact of the mixed use urban extension of the Houghton Regis North project, where Capital and Regional’s current advisors Turley Associates deemed an impact on Luton in the region of -11% as being acceptable.

The Mall

The Mall

Having been asked by Central Beds Council to appraise the retail assessment of Houghton Regis Development Consortium’s scheme, which included 25,000sq metres of retail, including a 10,000sq metre food store, Turley wrote that it felt the overall impact on Luton was not significant at -4% in 2022.

But it then added: “Even by adopting a very cautious and robust approach that assumes that 40% of the proposal’s overall turnover is derived from Luton town centre, this still only leads to an impact of less than 11% by 2022.

“We do not believe the proposal is likely to lead to a significant adverse impact on Luton town centre. Even based on a very cautious approach that 40% of the proposals turnover is derived from Luton town centre we do not believe that the effect of the application proposal will be significant.”

Capital & Regional have described the comparison as “ludicrous” and dispute Hatters’ interpretation of the WYG independent assessment, claiming the -1% to -7% impact range related to a 100% “luxury” retailer scheme and that the real impact could be up to 20% if other planning permissions such as the Houghton Regis scheme is taken into account. They point to an impact of -11.7% if the positive effect of Power Court project on the town centre is factored in.

But Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters’ Trust chairman, was not impressed by the apparent discrepancies. He said: “This is an amazing revelation and an utter disgrace. Can we now believe anything C&R or their advisors say?

“We trust the planning officers will treat this document by Turley Associates with the contempt it deserves as they prepare for the Planning Committee and make their judgment around the independent Retail Impact Assessment which was commissioned by Luton Borough Council.

“We also hope that C&R, the owners of The Mall, realise that their considerable efforts in delaying the decision, on the planning applications for Newlands Park and Power Court, are only having the effect of antagonizing the people of Luton and will further damage their corporate reputation within the town.”

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters’ Club, added: “Time and time again during this protracted planning process Capital and Regional have been proven to be misleading the community of Luton whilst they try to prevent any commercial threat they perceive to their dominance of retail in Luton and surrounding areas.

“This latest revelation questions further the credibility of every document prepared and submitted on their behalf on the Newlands Park and Power Court planning applications.

“Surely this has to be the final embarrassment for Capital & Regional and that they will now recognise their efforts to kick the ball into the long grass are really only damaging their own integrity and with it any respect left for them in the town.”

A spokesman for Capital & Regional said the comparison between Turley’s 2013 advice and the recent report was “flawed” and was an attempt to “manufacture some inconsistences”.

He said: “Any report on a specific planning application is just that: the facts considered relate to that individual planning application alone. To try to extract random quotes from a document on one planning application and then compare and contrast them to another different planning application years later in a different location with very different circumstances is just professionally unsound.

“The retail market conditions in 2013 were very significantly different to those that exist today. The retail market, the wider economic context and therefore the performance and resilience of town centres has altered radically over the last five years. This has been well documented across national media.”

He added: “Yet again the incorrect statistics in support of the 2020 Newlands’ application are being used. Supporters of this scheme keep referring to 1-7% retail impact on Luton town centre. These statistics specifically related to the 100% ‘aspirational’ retailer scheme from 2020’s original application. This has now been changed to a 66% ‘aspirational’ retailer scheme and Luton Borough Council’s own retail impact assessment’s analysis produced by WYG show a 12-20% impact on Luton town centre.”

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