The Future of Retail Parks

  • Category: News
  • Date Published: 28th March 2023
  • CONTACT: Ben Kochan, Guy Harris
Our Director, Guy Harris, was recently interviewed by Placemaking Resource Magazine. He offered insights on the redevelopment of retail parks for housing, and how these can provide local authorities with an opportunity to create housing developments with a sense of place.
Read the full article by Ben Kochan below.

Redevelopment of retail parks for housing can offer a useful source of housing sites for local authorities, but it’s important design of new schemes creates a sense of place, finds Ben Kochan.

Retail parks can help local authorities in their hunt for sites to boost their housing land supply but not all parks are suitable and the design of the new homes will be crucial. “These anonymous areas on the edge of towns and cities are not generally seen as potential housing sites and are not protected in the National Planning Policy Framework,” points out Christian Schiele, associate director at planning consultancy Turley.

“Building housing on these generally unloved retail locations offers an opportunity to create a development, which has a sense of place,” says Guy Harris, partner at architect Rolfe Judd. “Putting a high density housing scheme on a former retail park site can also be less contentious than in other, more built-up suburban locations,” he suggests.

However, Matthew Sobic, director at consultancy Savills points out that, “Housing schemes on retail parks would have to compete with other uses, which may achieve a higher land price.”

Use planning and funds to promote retail park redevelopments

Local authorities can use their planning powers and access to finance to bring forward the regeneration of retail parks for housing. “DIY retailing patterns are changing and some of the large operators do not require so much space,” says Harris. “Retail parks have a limited life before they need regeneration,” says Richard Purser, director of consultancy Plan Red. “The site owners are constantly reviewing how their parks are performing and looking at the potential for improvement or redevelopment”.

“Parks close to town centres developed in the 1970s and 1980s are coming up for redevelopment,” says Purser. He points to the Rochdale Central Retail Park on the edge of the town centre, which the local authority bought and is working with private sector partner Willmott Dixon on a scheme. Planning permission for 142 apartments and 81 houses was given at the end of 2022. “This site is suitable for housing, rather than a retail park sitting between the town centre and the railway station,” explains Purser. He also points to the redevelopment of the Central Retail Park in  Ancoats, on the edge of Manchester city centre which the local authority has bought and where it is bringing forward a mixed use scheme, including residential.

“Retail parks tend to be in single ownership, which makes it far easier to promote redevelopment, but existing occupiers can pose a challenge,” says Tim Price, director at Savills. “There are issues sometimes with existing operators on the site who want to continue trading, or want to come back once the redevelopment is completed.” He continues: “Working with existing users in situ can make the construction process more complex.

“Combining traditional DIY retailing with housing in the redevelopment requires careful thinking about how access is provided for the different uses,” says Price.  He points to the redevelopment of the Cantium Retail Park, on the Old Kent Road in south east London, where 1,100 homes are proposed, but the retailers are set to go back onto the site after completion. 

“Many schemes do include some retail but that’s generally local shopping,” says Purser.  “The scheme for Rochdale Central Retail Park includes a mix of food and other retail”.

Fit high density housing schemes on retail park sites

“Many retail park sites are suitable for high density housing, but council planning policies don’t always allow it,” says Christian Schiele, associate director at consultancy Turley. “We had to persuade Enfield Council in north London to allow a quite high density housing redevelopment of the Colosseum Retail Park,” says Schiele. The site, which lies on the busy A10 road coming out of London, has planning permission for 1,800 homes in buildings of up to 29 storeys.

Some retail park sites, particularly on the edge of towns, are also well located for logistic centres with their good road connections. “The site values for logistics uses are actually higher than for residential in some locations,” says Savills’ Sobic. He points to the Pentavia retail park on the A41 and A1 at Mill Hill in north west London, which eventually got planning permission for 900 homes after appeal. But it has now been bought by Amazon for a distribution hub.

Integrate the housing development into its surroundings

Retail park sites are often surrounded by roads or railway lines. Any scheme needs to look at how it will relate to the surrounding neighbourhoods, both in terms of physical and design connections. “These sites often have few heritage assets or environmental features which need to be integrated into the new development,” says Dominic Chapman, partner at planning and design consultant JTP. “This means also that they often don’t have many design or environmental features to relate to, to make a place,” he says. “The design team needs to work hard to create a place with a strong identity but should also draw upon wider context and design characteristics of surrounding areas.” He continues: “Visioning exercises and engagement with the surrounding communities can help to integrate the new development physically and socially into those neighbourhoods”.

“The scheme for Ilford Retail Park integrates the site into the town centre,” says Simon Marks, partner at consultancy Montagu Evans. The park is close to the centre but in fact doesn’t have particularly good car access, he says, adding, “The new scheme for 627 homes opens up the site to the town centre, providing much-needed public space”.  It also takes advantage of the new Crossrail underground station.

“The scheme to redevelop the Colosseum retail park sits between two existing centres of Enfield town and Southbury,” says Rolfe Judd’s Harris. The new development is planned to provide amenities that will complement those in existing centres. These include cafes, restaurants and parkland.

Retail park sites can be suitable for high density mixed use development, as proposed for Colosseum Retail Park.

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