Luton Town have rejected claims by The Mall owners Capital and Regional that building a multi-purpose scheme at Newlands Park will ‘suck the life’ out of the Mall.
Hatters have submitted two planning applications to Luton Borough Council, one for a new ground at Power Court, plus a music venue and hotel, the other for Newlands Park which is to include offices, retail space and leisure amenities.
The amount of money Luton loses as a town of 200,000 plus people to Watford, MK, London is incredible, and what Newlands Park is looking to do is to effectively draw a line around the borough of Luton and limit the level of spending that does go up or down the motorway.Michael Moran
Town chief executive Gary Sweet told the News/Gazette, the Mall shouldn’t have any cause for concern about plans at the M1 Junction 10 site, as he said: “Luton as a town is under retailed, it needs retail space, and one of the challenges that Luton has is that it can’t really attract retailers of a different kind, as retailers who are different to those that are in town aren’t broadly willing to come into Luton town centre.
“So that’s one of the things that I think where we’ve got to identify is that what we’re creating at Newlands Park is a differentiated offer to attract those brands and we welcome The Mall to work with us to ensure we complement each other.
“It is entirely different to the offer that is contained at the Mall, both in retail branding, in design, in style, and in its concept, because it’s a genuine mixed use placemaking scheme.
“You would also argue that if we didn’t have retail at Newlands Park then the quality and the quantum of offices at that site, which are absolutely necessary in that location, possibly wouldn’t be able to be built.
“So the mixed use nature of leisure, retail, offices and a hotel works very, very well together and in us creating a completely differentiated and complementary up-market level of retail, means that what we’re doing is putting Luton back on the map regionally from a retail perspective.”
Sweet also hopes that if the applications are passed for what the club has planned for Newlands Park, it can only help Luton flourish as a town.
He continued: “There’s an awful lot of retail leakage from Luton, there’s an awful lot of people in Luton that don’t shop in the Mall, they’ll go somewhere else, they’ll go to Milton Keynes, they’ll go to Watford, they’ll go down to London, we want to keep the Luton pound in Luton.
“That’s what broadly both of these schemes are about is to actually help Luton thrive a little bit.
“But there’s also this other thing which is this leap of faith in that with the number of cars that pass by, the number of aeroplanes that fly over, the number of trains that pass Power Court, between these two sites, the exposure that this gives Luton will change the image of Luton for good and try telling anybody that that won’t make a game-changing difference to Luton town.
“You look at other towns, the comparison to Milton Keynes is common and they have a central shopping centre which is significantly larger than the Mall, but they also have in addition to that, three or four other major out of town centre shopping areas and many of the same retail brands are in all or most of them.
“Now we don’t intend to necessarily share brands, we want to differentiate our positioning completely, but the point is no town of this size should really have such a limited set of shopping and leisure options.”
Development director Michael Moran said there is clear evidence that the town is losing money to surrounding areas, as he said: “The underlying opinions about how Luton shops currently have been assessed in detail. We’ve instructed the country’s leading consumer analysis company CACI, to study actual credit card shopping behaviour data amongst other methods to show where Luton residents actually spend their money.
“The amount of money Luton loses as a town of 200,000 plus people to Watford, MK, London is incredible, and what Newlands Park is looking to do is to effectively draw a line around the borough of Luton and limit the level of spending that does go up or down the motorway.
“That’s where we’ve been out talking to retailers who like the catchment of the town, but there’s no suitable space for them currently and that’s something we’re working with.
“It’s just accepting the reality and also trying to be positive going forward, so the offices at Newlands Park work better as part of an area with some bars and restaurants, but if that isn’t built, those companies will go somewhere else and it just goes back to the idea of trying to be ambitious and not ducking that challenge.
“Somebody, somewhere is going to build more retail for the town, it’s in black and white, it’s needed. The question is what type of retail and where it goes and effectively what does that development actually deliver for the wider town.
“All of the work that has been undertaken for the past couple of years is recognising these are two major projects, but we’re going into it with our eyes open and, we believe, with a degree of strong supporting evidence behind us.”