Bad news for Biggleswade in retail centre review

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Biggleswade has fared badly in a report of the health of retail centres across the UK.

The town came in at 937 out of 1,000.

A total of 1,000 locations were ranked by Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH) for its 2017 Vitality Index. Leighton Buzzard ranked as 201st, Luton 337th, Hemel 391st, and Dunstable in 635 place. Milton Keynes came in at 68th, while Cambridge came top, and bottom of the pile was Newcastle upon Tyne (Byker Shields).

The Vitality Index aims to quantify the ‘retail health’ of each centre and HDH says the criteria allows smaller centres to be compared with the big name destinations. This year’s Index was been expanded to 1,000 from 500 centres and considered a combination of the proportion of up-market shops; the proportion of value-led shops; the vacancy rate, and the proportion of ‘undesirable’ shops – such as pawnbrokers, money lenders, and bookmakers.

In addition, these variables are also compared to the demographic composition of the centre’s catchment area and a greater score is given to areas whose retail mix is optimally adapted to the local community.

Jonathan De Mello, HDH’s head of retail consultancy, said: “This iteration builds considerably on our inaugural Vitality Index, released in 2014, which was the first retail ranking in Great Britain to emphasise the quality of retail in a centre, in addition to its size.

“In this release, by popular demand from both retailers and investors, HDH have incorporated additional small towns and high streets, which gives a greater range to the ranking, and allows for comparison of local high streets with major retail destinations. We’ve also included a number of temporal variables – tracking the change in retail mix of a centre over the past 5 years, to credit those that have improved, and penalise those that have deteriorated.”

“This ranking highlights the ‘healthiest’ retail centres in Britain, which successful brands should target when considering network expansion. Smaller centres are of increasing interest to retailers, given rents are often highest in the largest centres. So a small centre with a high vitality score – and the right shopper profile – could potentially yield strong profits.”

James Ebel, HDH’s executive director in retail agency division, added: “With an increase in online retailing, many of our clients, especially those from North America, now want to consider why they should enter a market rather than how many stores they should have.

“For this purpose, it’s important to know not only who trades in a retail centre, but how many are vacant and whether the market captures their customer profile. Each retailer has different requirements in terms of what makes an ideal location to trade in.

“This ranking, with some bespoke criteria included, can be an important tool for retailers looking to expand their store portfolio. The Vitality Index highlights some of the highest quality retail centres in Britain, demonstrating the fact that market size isn’t the only predictor for commercial success.”

The index includes British centres with greater than 40 multiples, ranging from local high streets to regional shopping malls and major city centres. However, HDH say retail parks and outlet centres have been excluded, as their remote locations mean they are not intrinsically linked to the local area, and so their health does not impact the community in the same way.

The Vitality Index has also highlighted the overall increase in the presence of downmarket stores on Britain’s high streets. In the past five years there has been a 2.7% increase in the proportion of value stores in centres, in addition to a 1.6% increase in the proportion of ‘undesirable’ shops.