2020 confident about Newlands Park scheme for Luton following publication of new retail impact assessments

An overview of the plans for Newlands Park
An overview of the plans for Newlands Park

Luton Town says two recently released retail assessments on the impact of its proposed Newlands Park scheme on the town centre haven’t thrown up any issues it hasn’t already factored into its plans.

Council commissioned reports by Chase & Partners and WYG have suggested that retailer exclusion lists, and five-year no poaching clauses should be included in any planning permission for Newlands to protect the town centre from “serious adverse impact”. A permitted retailer list has also been compiled.

Speaking to this website earlier today, Michael Moran, Chief Operating Officer for 2020 Developments welcomed the “positive” reports, stating: “The council is wanted to do a professional job. You have to have consultants’ reports like this. It’s positive as it shows where things are and makes it a lot clearer for everybody.

“The points raised were always points we were aware of and discussed with the council.”

Mr Moran said: “2020 has always been a unique proposition. From the outset we wanted to deliver a scheme at Junction 10 that complements the town centre.

“The permitted retailer list and non poaching agreement are ideas we put forward from the very start, so it’s not a surprise. All our thinking is based on those arrangements being in place.”

Questions have been raised by the consultants and Capital & Regional (owners of The Mall) about the enforceability of such retailer restrictions, but Mr Moran added: “The council legal advisors and our legal advisors have looked at this and there is no doubt about the legalities.”

Mr Moran pointed to an earlier WYG report from September 2017 which predicted that the impact on Newlands Park/Power Court on town centre retail turnover would be -1.1% in 2022 and -1.4% in 2026 if all Newlands retail floorspace was heavily restricted. That figure became -7.9% (2022) and -7.7& (2026) in the scenario of no retailer restrictions at all.

He said: “In terms of impact it’s a spread between 1% and 7% for Newlands. We disagree these figures represent a serious impact.”

Despite the well-documented challenges facing retail nationally, 2020 are confident the space at Newlands will be snapped up.

Mr Moran said: “We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was deliverable. The national issue with the economy is complicated for all concerned. But beneath the headlines a lot of retailers are doing well, although I’m not suggesting anything is easy.”

He said Newlands’ J10 half hour catchment was “one of the strongest in the country”. He said: “This is a well designed and well thought out scheme that plays to a particular market and the feedback from our target retailers is that it’s what they want to see.

“As a location J10 is fantastic for retail and consumers of that high end nature. We have got two great firms of retail agents working on this. We have got it to this point and we are confident we can deliver.”

WYG has also warned of the potential risk of anchor retailers abandoning the town centre once the five years non-poaching agreement had expired.

But Mr Moran said the Newlands space would not be available at that point: “In five years time [after planning permission], the practical idea that we’re going to have a good deal of empty space for big retailers to drop into, well, that’s not how property development works.”

The recent Chase report included a list of 220 permitted users for Newlands. It had been proposed that 85% of Newlands retailers coming from this permitted ‘high quality’ list, but Chase suggested that figure should drop to 65-75% to give the new facility a sound base to ensure full letting allowing more ‘mass market’ occupiers.

Mr Moran added: “The thinking behind our percentages is that it absolutely our intent to have a high end scheme. But if the figure was 100% that ties our hands in commercial negotiations. They know they are on the list [of permitted retailers] and know you have to have them.”

The Chase report had also considered House of Fraser as the lead candidate for anchoring Newlands and WYG said this now looked challenging given the firm’s restructuring and closure of 31 of its 59 stores.

Mr Moran added: “Following House of Fraser’s CVA that retailer is in a better position now to look forward than it was. It is in a much clearer position. An anchor retailer [for Newlands] is important. Who that is is a careful consideration.”

The Power Court plans for a stadium also include 500 residential apartments, bars, restaurants, lifestyle retail units and a small niche cinema, a 1,800 capacity live venue, medium size hotel and banqueting venue, creche/play area and potential education and medical facilities, a supermarket and 100 car parking spaces.

The Hatters say Newlands Park is needed to fund Power Court. Newlands would boast 42,000sq metres of office space, 13,000sq metres of hotel accommodation, 16,000sq metres of leisure and 37,000sq metres for retail.

The planning applications for the schemes were submitted in August 2016, but have yet to be voted on by councillors after the w/c August 20 suggested date was recently deemed by the council as unachievable.

Mr Moran said: “Luton needs this big economic boost. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull this together for the town. It’s 10,000 jobs and £250m per year to the Luton economy.

“The land has been bought freehold before planning permission. That’s a statement of being here long term and here to do it the right way. The scheme is unique and been tailored to complement the town centre.”

If the council backs the plans then Capital & Regional has indicated it would challenge the decision.

Mr Moran said: “Everyone has got a legal right to challenge. There’s a difference between trying to make a challenge and a court agreeing your challenge has substance. The best people to determine these applications are Luton Borough Council, the planning inspector said that when the Local Plan was adopted last year.”

He said, if approved, the schemes would automatically go to the Secretary of State, due to their scale, but was confident they wouldn’t be “called in”, adding: “They would have been properly prepared, properly considered by the local authority and supported by local people, so you are starting to be in a good place with the Secretary of State.”

WYG report: Will potential adverse impact of Newlands Park be outweighed by significant investment in Power Court and retail spend clawback?

Chase report: Hatters’ Newlands Park could attract luxury retailers that wouldn’t come to Luton town centre, according to independent retail impact report