News out today reveals that a shopping centre in Ealing is in line for complete demolition and subsequent redevelopment including 3,500 new homes. This news once again brought home just how many centres are facing precarious futures.
Many mall owners are currently in dire financial situations, with sale of land or redevelopment looking the only way out.
In south east London tentative ideas have been floated in recent years to demolish the Lewisham Centre.
Land Securities, which own the shopping centre, stated in 2018: ”We see excellent potential for a new town centre at Lewisham, with our ownership of Lewisham Shopping Centre, SE13 forming the core of a potential 8.3 acre mixed use destination”.
They have only received 63 per cent of shop rent due in March.
Elephant and Castle is of course nearing its end after a projected period of plans and campaigns. I took a look around the centre last year.
Elephant and Castle was the first shopping centre in London opening in 1965. Lewisham opened in 1977. Both contain office blocks. Given London’s population was seeing post-war declines housing wasn’t at the top of the agenda. That has reversed considerably over the past couple of decades.
Elephant and Castle differs in that it retained a large number of independent business compared to many shopping centres. This is one key factor in contentious plans to demolish.
Other large centres do not have the same issues. or at least not to the same extent. Bexleyheath Broadway is one that mainly includes household names. It opened in 1984 is now owned by New River Retail. Shares have fallen 75 per cent over the past year. They have a number of mixed-use redevelopment projects across their estate.
Those projects predate the current situation where internet shopping has further boomed and physical stores see limited space for customers due to social distancing. Even when the virus passes, how many retailers will hang on in the interim?
The need for homes is also going nowhere, and shopping centres provide large expanses of brownfield land. Rebuilds permit the opportunity of homes and no loss of retail space if demand remains. In fact, new homes above and around shops will offer a lifeline to those operating commercial units. And shorter commutes to those working in town centres if new housing is actually affordable to retail workers.
Finally, aside from covered shopping centres there are also plans at open air centres such as Lee Gate.
It paints a sorry picture right now. Plans somewhat similar to this are planned:
Many local authorities spent big on buying shopping centres over the past decade. It was a (possibly) foolish way to generate income in a time of cuts. Most may have overpaid, but if they were shrewd and bought cheap it could offer the chance for authorities to embark on large projects to provide new shops and housing – including many at low cost. Of course that would need central Government support, but if Whitehall seek stimulus measures there’s far worse options.
Given all that is happening, how many centres from the 1960s to 1990s will remain in just a decades time?