It was encouraging to get an upbeat response from The Lexicon at Bracknell about progress on its second phase, The Deck.
Not that you would expect a downbeat one, but it brings to mind the thoughts of an architect at one of our UK Property Forums events a few years ago who told us The Lexicon is seen as the last new shopping centre of its kind.
Subsequent centres, he said, will be more about a mix of uses, especially leisure. The Clarendon Centre scheme in Oxford goes further than even he predicted with laboratories, offices and student accommodation combined with more traditional retail.
The Lexicon is often praised for its look and feel and remains popular and vibrant after five years. But you only have to look inside the much-improved Princess Square, an indoor space from the ‘old’ Bracknell centre, to see the alarming number of empty units – along with the alarmingly small number of people (see image below).
There seems to be good use being made of the former Sainsbury’s, including a new Sports Direct which will likely bring some missing footfall to that area, but inside the mall there seems a desperate need for something to drag people from the newer development.
A similar thing happened in Reading when The Oracle opened. Friar Street, always the secondary shopping street to Broad Street, was almost hollowed out as a retail area and it has never really recovered.
And given that Oxford’s Covered Market is a shining light, even in such a world famous city, Princess Square must offer an opportunity to become a centre for smaller niche traders who, in sufficient numbers, could create a thriving town centre attraction to complement, rather than compete with, The Lexicon.
Effectively, it could be a box park but in a nicer, newly-refurbished space. The Lanes in Brighton has long had corporate occupiers trying to get in among the scores of independent businesses. A few familiar names in among the independents wouldn’t be the end of the world.
But without some imaginative and bold thinking it’s hard to see what the future is for Princess Square.
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