Future Proofing Glasgow’s Retailing Centre 

…. and hopefully improving its connectivity

Recently, the retail market in Glasgow has received considerable attention in the news.  Over the course of a week, three high profile announcements were made that could have significant impact on retailing in the city centre.  

More bad news for Sauchiehall Street

First, Marks and Spencers announced the closure of their Sauchiehall Street store. They have traded from this street for over eight decades, drawing footfall along the street as the magnet retailer. Unsurprisingly, neighbouring retailers are concerned as this marks another ‘nail in the coffin’ for Sauchiehall Street, and already there are signs that other retailers, such as Sports Direct are considering closing.

Traditionally, this street represented part of Glasgow’s prime retailing pitch, known locally as the ‘Golden Z’ but, the spatial analysis we have conducted as part of our research shows the prime pitch on this street, has been in decline and contracting for some time. A process of spatial change that started before the closure of BHS in 2016 and the devastation of the Victoria’s nightclub and Glasgow School of Art fires. Hopes for the street were raised when planning permission was granted last year to refurbish the empty BHS store into a food/non-food store for a leading retailer but it now seems these hopes were short lived.

Transforming Buchanan Street into “an urban neighbourhood”

Second, is the announcement by Landsec of its intention to replace Buchanan Galleries with an “urban neighbourhood” although their plan to demolish the 22-year old shopping centre is dependent on continued support from Glasgow City Council in the form of Tax Incremental Finance (TIF). A TIF agreement had been put in place for infrastructure and public realm works as part of a scheme proposed by the long leaseholder in 2010 to extend Buchanan Galleries but was then abandoned in September 2015. Glasgow City Council has declared they will work with Landsec on the revised proposal, which currently aims to deliver a mix of retail, office, leisure and residential units alongside the creation of new public space and streets. While the proposed redevelopment is still in the concept stage, it could effectively see the area transformed into an open air centre on par with Edinburgh’s St James Quarter or Liverpool One, albeit on a smaller scale.

Opening the streetscapes around the St Enoch Centre

Third, Sovereign Centros is taking a further step to action its 10-year masterplan to convert the St Enoch Centre into a mixed-use development by lodging a planning application to redevelop the vacant former Debenhams into an office with rooftop restaurant. The masterplan, finalised and showcased in November 2021, proposes further redevelopment to the shopping centre that will see a four-star hotel, up to 1700 homes and public space, as well as office space, created in an attempt to transform the mall into a mixed use development.  As usual, the devil is in the detail but the masterplan proposes to open the streetscapes around the centre so hopefully this results in a reconnection of Howard Street and Stockwell Place with the main retailing streets.

Joining the dots

All three of these changes have potential to significantly impact on Glasgow’s retailing centre, adding momentum to its transformation from a traditional retail dominant location to modern walkable districts that integrate leisure, commercial and city living. Adaptations necessary if the city centre is to address increasing vacancy rates and general decline that has occurred as a result of the contraction in mid-market retailing, a consequence of the increasing stranglehold of online shopping, rising operational costs and changing shopping behaviours.

The redevelopment of the city centre’s two largest shopping centres not only offers the opportunity to reconnect the city centre, and provide community spaces and much needed housing, but the reduction in the supply of retail space will benefit existing “High Streets’, such as Sauchiehall Street, that have struggled to compete with these managed malls.

A potential area for concern is that these changes are happening independent of each other, and could potentially change footfall patterns. A wider centre-level retail and leisure masterplan is something the city council should consider to integrate these property-level masterplans with the principal shopping streets. Ownership of buildings located on these streets is fragmented with no coherent mechanism to guide the needed urban transformation.

A co-ordinated response to the challenges the city’s retailing centre faces is needed with a plan of action to maximise the benefits of wider accessibility and improvements in connectivity as the city’s streetscapes are opened. District masterplans are proposed under the City Centre Strategic Development Framework but these districts dissect the retailing centre. A more holistic approach is needed to address the specific issues faced by the city’s traditional retailing streets.

Such a retail and leisure masterplan also needs to ensure the public and social value services to support city living are encouraged as part of the planned changes.  Our research, which mapped the use and ownership of city centre properties over 2000 to 2017, shows that neighbourhood services have not kept pace with the growth in residential accommodation. Providing these services is essential if new residences, whether developed as part of shopping centre redevelopments or the conversion of the city’s ageing office stock, are to create sustainable urban living as envisaged by Glasgow’s City Centre Living Strategy.

– Allison M Orr

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