In a sign of changing consumer trends Bluewater shopping centre’s owner has applied to convert a number of retail units into leisure space.
That includes bars and restaurants at the site on an upper floor of the Rose Gallery and Winter Garden.
Many shopping centres have been seeing long term declines in visits, with the trend clearly seen across the country in recent years.
Figures show shopping centres lagging high streets and retail parks in returning shoppers since 2020, with latest figures at 82 per cent.
Bluewater though is somewhat of an exception to most shopping centres in terms of design. For one it’s vast and on an entirely different scale and its location.
Compare that to, say, Lewisham were owners Landsec seek to demolish and rebuild as a mixed-use development including housing above retail and leisure units. Landsec are also the main shareholder at Bluewater after a deal in 2021.
While we wont be seeing Bluewater demolished anytime soon, the same trend towards increased leisure activities are evident as more switch to online shopping.
Where the future lies with Bluewater is interesting point. It’s in a chalk quarry somewhat cut off from nearby areas. Built in 1999, it’s done well to withstand the change to online shopping ever since, with thousands of homes built in Ebbflseet and beyond helping.
It’s also car dependent on the whole. That’s a problem if fewer people are learning to drive. While it does have bus access from numerous areas, it’s hardly quick on the 96 from south east London. Other TfL routes are low frequency.
Kent buses operated by Arriva are often expensive and slow.
So Bluewater may continue seeking to change retail space on an ongoing basis to stay relevant, but will attempts be made to build homes on some of the vast car parks surrounding the site in years and decades to come?
The site has a whopping 13,000 parking spaces with many single level. Decking more would enable developable land without touching the centre itself. Housing and further leisure sites on those car parks may arrive.
One to watch, as the shopping centres of old evolve or die.
The application at Bluewater can be seen here.