UP UNTIL now Glasgow has been able to boast that its Z-shaped retail core is anchored at both ends by that doyen of the UK high street, Marks & Spencer.
But not for much longer, following the announcement that M&S is to be the main tenant at the £400 million extension to Buchanan Galleries shopping centre. The move is not imminent, as the developers will require further pre-lets before work goes ahead, but inevitably the “carrot” of M&S will help achieve that.
As part of the deal the developer will buy, and refurbish, the Marks store on Sauchiehall Street, but M&S will be a hard act to follow.
Its loss can only continue the demise of a thoroughfare which once boasted a number of quality department stores but is now heavily focused on two of the consumer items that are most associated with “dumb Britain”: cheap sports clothing and mobile phones.
Argyle Street has also been fraying at the edges, despite the presence of Marks – with so much focus on Buchanan Street (anchored at one end by the Galleries and by St Enoch at the other), Glasgow’s famous “Z” is already shrinking into an “I”.
Granted, demographics change and cities cannot afford to stand still, yet I wonder if this is a change for the better. Buchanan Galleries is not, in itself, responsible for the diminution of Glasgow’s traditional retail core: that lies, largely, with edge-of-town shopping malls which were causing haemorrhaging in city centres long before internet shopping took off.
However, one of the compensations of the recession is that no-one is likely to try to build another Braehead or a Silverburn any time soon.
This should give breathing space to completely rethink attitudes to retail property planning – not just in relation to “in-town” versus “out-of-town” but to the balance within central areas.
It should also allow us to ask if we really want the centres of our cities – with their varied and sometimes historic architecture – to simply become clones of the malls that already proliferate the outskirts.
• Ken Houston is managing director of KHMS Ltd