Luton Town fans call for Mall owners to drop Newlands Park objection after retail article ‘own goal’, but C&R reject their argument

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

Capital & Regional have been accused of “astonishing hypocrisy” in opposing Newlands Park following a magazine article where chief executive Lawrence Hutchings stated two different retail centres in close proximity can work together hand in hand.

The Mall owners have expressed strong opposition to Luton Town’s retail/office/leisure development near M1 J10, which is needed to finance a new stadium, claiming it will place the town centre at substantial risk.

The Estates Gazette article

The Estates Gazette article

The Hatters’ scheme, which was first submitted in August 2016, is due to go to Luton Borough Council’s development control committee soon. The club says the Newlands scheme, which is likely to include 65% “luxury” retailers and 35% mass market outlets will complement and not compete with The Mall.

Now, in an article just published in the Autumn 2018 edition of Estates Gazette Retail and Leisure magazine, Mr Hutchings compares destination centres offering wants-based retail with needs-based community, neighbourhood and functional centres.

He draws on the example of Westfield Stratford in London which opened in 2011, and the Exchange in Ilford just a few miles away which C&R purchased in March 2017.

He writes: “Our community centre at Ilford thrives within the catchment area of Westfield Stratford because they satisfy different customer missions. Westfield is a destination centre with over 80% of its retail offer focused towards wants and has a strong leisure offer.

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters' Club, left, with Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters' Trust chairman. PHOTO COPYRIGHT LUTON NEWS

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters' Club, left, with Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters' Trust chairman. PHOTO COPYRIGHT LUTON NEWS

“Our centre at Ilford serves a local catchment with a different mission, offering a retail mix more centred on everyday needs, and providing services such as a post office, dentist and travel agents alongside entertainment. Our customers visit both centres, and understand the different roles they fill.”

The article has been latched onto by Hatters’ supporters groups, who say the parellels between Ilford and Luton mean C&R should immediately withdraw their Newlands Park objections.

However C&R say the comparison does not stand up to scrutiny and was like “comparing apples and pears”.

Andy King, Acting Chairman for Save Our Town, said: “At last people can see, in black and white, the first-class hypocrisy at the heart of Capital & Regional’s ill-conceived, goal-post-moving opposition to Newlands Park.

The Mall

The Mall

“C&R now haven’t got a leg to stand on if they’re happy to admit that their ‘value-focused’ Exchange shopping centre in Ilford ‘thrives within the catchment area of Westfield Stratford’ – a ‘destination centre’. If shoppers there ‘visit both centres’, then the same will be true of Newlands Park and The Mall in Luton. The scenario will be that everyone benefits and it is now simply preposterous for them to claim otherwise.

“We hope the admission in this September 2018 article will mean C&R drop their opposition of Newlands Park, but we’re so used to the staggering levels of arrogance from them, in which they have shown such little regard to the facts and the will of Lutonians – an overwhelming number of whom are in favour of Newlands Park and Power Court – that we’re prepared for them to double down on the gibberish.

“Perhaps they’ll try to explain their hypocritical stance by saying the conditions in Luton are in some way unique. Maybe they’ll say that the market has changed since the comment piece was written.

“It doesn’t matter what spin they try to put on this shopping-centred own goal because Lutonians are not buying their claptrap and subterfuge.

“And if Capital & Regional had any real connection to Luton they would realise this and they’d understand how opinion of them has fallen even sharper than their share price.

“They still have an opportunity to repair their reputation if they drop their objections to Newlands Park and we’d urge them to do this.

“They need to stop making a mockery of Lutonians and take heed of the closing words in the article, because it’s about time they ‘started talking the same language as their customers’.

“The people of this town want change. They want to save our town from stagnation. They want regeneration with Newlands Park and Power Court.”

Tony Murray, chairman of Luton Town Supporters’ Trust said situation would be “laughable if it wasn’t so serious”.

He said: “To claim that the retail centres at Westfield can complement each other and work together but the same scenario in Luton can’t is unbelievable. The level of hypocrisy is astonishing. Have C&R got any credibility left?

“This is nothing but another insult to the people of Luton and that they care nothing for that community. They purely act out of self interest and their reputation continues to hit new lows.”

Mark Bradbury, chairman of Loyal Luton Supporters’ Club, said: “Westfield is a destination centre with over 80% of its retail offer focused towards wants and has a strong leisure offer. Sounds very similar to Newlands Park to us. We fail to see how Mr Hutchings finds what is acceptable for Ilford to be a severe business threat to C&R in Luton.

“C&R have recognised the benefits that Power Court will bring to Luton and changed their position to publicly support it. I would suggest to Mr Hutchings it is not to late to recognise that Newlands Park and the Mall will give a similar offering that Stratford and Ilford does to his customers and will complement each other.

“So come on C&R drop this hypocrisy, drop your objection to Newlands Park, without which Power Court can not happen, embrace what the people of Luton want and need, which undoubtedly will be a catalyst for the regeneration of the town and probably even help with your own development aspirations as seen recently in this newspaper.”

A statement from Capital & Regional rejected the supporters’ arguments, however.

It read: “The Estates Gazette article in question was dealing with a wider industry property investment debate about re-classifying the current description and definition of retail assets. In planning terms, centres are currently broadly classified as: International centres (only central London), regional centres (eg Westfield Stratford), sub regional centres (eg Luton), city/town centres (eg Ilford), district centres, local centres,neighbourhood centres, street shops.

“Out of town retail development, like that proposed at Newlands, has no place in the accepted policy hierarchy under national and local planning policy and thus is not preferred and only very exceptionally ever granted planning permission. The ‘town centre first’ policy approach exists because of the well documented and universally accepted view that out of town retail negatively impacts existing town centres, and Luton would be no exception.”

It added: “So called ‘aspirational’ retail only works in very few locations which have both a very affluent catchment and significant tourist footfall. This was underlined recently by the council’s own ‘independent’ consultants’ reports which have forced 2020 to change its Newlands proposals from 100% down to 85% and now 66% ‘aspirational’ retail. Thus if Newlands was granted planning consent, it would inevitably compete for the same tenants as Luton town centre despite the claims of 2020’s supporters. This is why 2020’s agents have already approached Luton town centre retailers.

“In short, Stratford and Ilford are wholly different retail schemes in scale as well as in commercial and planning terms whereas Luton town centre and Newlands would inevitably compete with each other. The comparison urged by 2020’s supporters is just plain wrong; it is a classic case of comparing apples with pears.

“It is important to underline the planning context against which the Newlands application will be decided, in that 2020’s proposal scheme is against national government planning policy; is contrary to Luton Borough Council’s own local planning policy; would have a significantly harmful impact upon Luton town centre (according to the council’s own ‘independent’ consultants’ reports); and fails the required ‘sequential test’ planning policy. All of which mean that Luton Council and/or the Secretary of State should refuse to grant planning permission.”

The statement added: “Capital & Regional fully supports Luton’s aspirations for a new stadium for Luton Town FC on the Power Court site as well as policy compliant development at the Newlands site to help fund it. But we cannot support the town centre retail and leisure uses there.

“We again repeat our offer to 2020 and Luton Borough Council: let us work together to bring forward a robust, sustainable and policy compliant funding package for Luton Town’s new stadium on the Power Court site.”

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