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

A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park
A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park

An exclusion list should be drawn up to prevent key town centre retailers relocating to Newlands Park if the council wants to back Luton Town’s proposed development near M1 J10.

That’s the advice from Luton Council’s consultants WYG found in a new retail appraisal which has just been made public.

An independent retail impact assessment by Chase & Partners published earlier this month had suggested a five-year no poaching clause be included in any planning permission for Newlands, but said the council should seek legal advice on its enforceability.

But WYG has also warned of the potential risk of anchor retailers abandoning the town centre once the five years has expired. It says the level of impact would depend on which retailers potentially relocate, and adds: “We consider that this potential risk could result in a significant adverse impact.

“Should the council be minded to approve Newlands Park we advise that consideration is given to a mechanism such as an exclusion list which could minimise the potential risk of retailers relocating from Luton town centre.”

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.

But allowing 35% of the retail space to be unrestricted/mass market retailers is also concerning, according to WYG.

“It is possible that this floorspace could accommodate a range of retailers which may include M&S, Debenhams, H&M, Next, Primark, Monsoon, Topshop, River Island, New Look, JD Sports and Sports Direct. All are represented in Luton town centre.”

Speculating about the impact of M&S and Debenhams going to Newlands, WYG say: “The loss of two key anchor retailers such as these from Luton town centre would adversely impact town centre turnover and lead to in-direct adverse effects such as the loss of footfall and linked trips. We consider that this potential risk could result in a significant adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Luton town centre.”

WYG also warn that there is potential that the 35% unrestricted mass market floorspace will attract retailers that would otherwise seek to locate in the town centre.

And WYG has questioned if Newlands will be able to attract ‘high end’ retailers given the Chase report highlighting limited demand from those it approached.

Chase had considered House of Fraser as the lead candidate for anchoring Newlands, but WYG say matters have moved on stating: “Given House of Fraser’s very recent annoucement of its plans to restructure and close 31 of its 59 stores its potential commitment to opening a new anchor store at Newlands Park in the near future in our view looks challenging.”

It says the Power Court development is vital as it will help mitigate the impact of Newlands Park on the town centre.

WYG conclude: “The council should balance the potential significant adverse impacts with other considerations to see whether or not they are outweighed. In our view such considerations are likely to relate to the delivery of significant investment in the Power Court site, clawback of retail expenditure, and overall economic investment.”

Capital & Regional, owners of the Mall Luton, are objecting to the Newlands Park scheme and has questioned why the WYG report has been heavily blanked out and redacted.

It says: “WYG agrees with Chase that the claimed ‘aspirational’ retail offer for Newlands will not work and will require mass market retail which will inevitably directly compete with Luton and other town centres in the region.

“The report states that any store losses from Luton town centre will risk ‘significant adverse impact on the performance of Luton town centre’ now and into the future.
“In addition to Chase highlighting negative impact on Luton, Harpenden and St Albans, WYG’s previous conclusion from September 2017 of significant adverse impacts on Luton town centre is repeated and is subject to a strengthened caveat of the council and applicant being able to find suitable planning and legal mechanisms to control the overlap of retailers between Newlands and Luton town centre.

“WYG agree with Chase that the only way to try to manage this harm is with a number of technical and legal solutions, including restrictions on which retailers and brands could be granted leases at Newlands, non-poaching agreements and a retailer exclusion list. To have to consider these at all highlights a real issue of harmful retail impact. Neither Chase or WYG offer any precedent or proposal on how such a raft of controls could work effectively and lawfully.”

Luton Town reaction to retail assessments... click here