By Professor Julie Froud, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester
The work to regenerate the York Place shopping centre in Newcastle-under- Lyme in 2017 is an important experiment that starts with an under-performing and out-dated retail centre in a struggling town. The challenge for Hometown Plus has been, with very limited resources, to develop a programme of active management that will improve the financial viability of the centre and its value to the community. The question is, by aligning business and community interests, is it possible to create a stronger and more valuable space?
The results so far are very encouraging with some early wins and good foundations put in place.
First stage improvements in the arcade to the floor and lighting have created a brighter, safer and more welcoming space. This has improved visitor perceptions, made it more likely that shoppers will visit and provided an indication of the owner's commitment to improving the centre's appearance and utility.
An active and engaged management team to improve relations with existing tenants, find new tenants for the empty units and develop a plan for the centre. The average vacancy rate in 2017 was one unit, compared with five units in 2016. Significant financial gains through savings in void costs (£107k) plus extra rental income (£51k) in 2017.
An anchor tenant, the YMCA has been secured, establishing a new retail/events unit, The Place To Be, which is intended to drive footfall in the centre and to provide events that contribute to community-building. Creating a new identity, for York Place as a home for independent and specialist traders.
Building significant relationships across Newcastle-under- Lyme to secure support from the Borough Council and the Business Improvement District (BID). Engagement with many local and regional community and arts organisations to plan events at the centre and to enable York Place to be involved in future events that raise visibility and encourage footfall. The next steps are to consolidate and extend the progress made in 2017 and to manage risks.
Developing effective forms of support for existing tenants and continuing to find new tenants to fill units as they are vacated. Building the identity of York Place around independent, distinctive, local and quality offerings.
Working with the YMCA and other partners to build activities in the centre that enhance footfall. Collaborating with other groups on involvement in high profile events, such as the Philip Astley celebrations and the Festival of Sport in 2018.
Continuing to improve the quality of the York Place estate to meet the needs and aspirations of tenants and centre users. A demanding retail environment requires an infrastructure fit for purpose.
Securing the management team input for the next phase, avoiding loss of expertise and momentum. Exploring new revenue streams that can allow the regeneration project to develop further and create more financial and social value.