Public and private sector need to team up to tackle 'distressed' shopping centres

Experts are calling for a fundamental re-think of the traditional shopping centre in Scotland - claiming that the old-style model of loads of small retailers inside a big building will soon leave retail parks full of empty units.

Tahir Ali of Wakefield based Evergold Property - new owners of The Postings which will be renamed The Kirkcaldy Centre.'Picture from Tahir Ali

Speakers at the Scotland’s Towns partnership summit in Edinburgh tomorrow are set to tell delegates that private retail needs to pair up with the public sector to redesign town centre shopping centres to incorporate community festivals, markets and more experiential offers - as well as increased residential opportunities.

Around 30 people ranging from public sector experts - including a representative from Scotland’s new Scottish National Investment Bank - to private property companies and shopping centre owners are set to meet to discuss the issue for the first time.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Many shopping centres, particularly in Scotland’s smaller towns, have been struggling in recent years, as people increasingly turn to the internet to do their shopping, to visit larger, out of town centres such as Glasgow’s Braehead.

Last year, a shopping centre in Kirkcaldy, The Postings, which had 14 of its 21 shops vacant, was put up for sale for a reserve price £1. However, in larger cities, retail development is still thriving. Edinburgh’s St James Centre, redeveloped at a cost of £1 billion, is set to open later this year.

Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, which is running today’s event, said: “This event is to put a focus on Scotland’s shopping centres, because a lot of these assets are now so fragile and there is generally a level of distress which we have not seen before.

“It is the concept of the big box with the little boxes inside and how you decide what boxes you put back in. There needs to be local solutions for local circumstances.”

He added: “This is the first time at a national level that we’ve got public and private sector to sit down and discuss this.”

Iain McLean, partner of real estate at law firm DWF, which is hosting the summit, said: “It is no longer a case of ‘if you build it they will come’ with a standard shopping centre.

“There will always be some success stories, particularly in the big towns and cities. However, some shopping centres may be obsolete and the best plan might be to consider demolition or partial demolition for alternative use.”

Emma Mackenzie, director and head of asset management at New River, which runs five shopping centres in Scotland, said: “We are seeing a revolution in that there has to be a change and it has to be addressed. Shopping centres will not recover themselves unless there is intervention.”