While The Lexicon’s announcement of new lettings is good news, the fact the centre is only 70 per cent let is a sad sign of the times.
It might not be unusual in this era but it is unusual for a landlord to announce it. For one of the most admired and attractive shopping centres to be 30 per cent empty would once have been something of a concern. Now it seems to be inevitable.
It’s not just the fact that almost a third is vacant but the lack of demand will inevitably mean rents of the occupied units will be dragged down and the centre’s attraction could even be at risk.
It’s ironic that just as Bracknell’s 1960s centre was swept away in favour of a bright, modern scheme, its strength as a home to numerous hi-tech businesses is in decline.
Basingstoke seems to be struggling in terms of both its retail and office markets. On a recent visit to Festival Place, we noted of 24 units on the top floor, 13 were vacant. That would seem to correlate with our Secret Agent’s view of the town’s failing office market.
The Oracle in Reading has few empty units but is taking radical action with regard to its biggest. There are many empty Debenhams stores around the country which serve little purpose other than to illustrate the lack of imagination landlords have over what to do with them.
While flats and co-working space are hardly imaginative, at least The Oracle is taking action. The fact that Next Beauty which occupies part of the store, can be readily dispensed with, is perhaps a clue as to the kind of (presumably generous) deals Next is getting around the country as one of the few retailers expanding in shopping centres.
Good deals on rents might help keep up appearances and footfall but won’t pay the bills.
Hammerson’s plans to replace some retail and leisure with retail, leisure, co-working space and flats will mean most of the centre can continue to operate while work takes place and the subsequent residential rental income will hopefully help safeguard the centre’s future.
When The Oracle was built in 1999, it would have seemed inconceivable that by now its partial demolition would be being planned but the rate of change never seems to slow down.
At Basingstoke and Bracknell there remain opportunities to be creative by housing unusual and independent operators or by developing the leisure side, not just with escape rooms but with more general family attractions or even traditional pubs, museums or educational or theatrical, artistic activities and displays.
In an era when retailers are hard to come by, creativity could be priceless. But it seems that is even harder to come by.
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