Dealing with empty shops: Shropshire Council

The Pride Hill centre, which the council bought along with the Darwin and Riverside Centres in 2018, is set to undergo a large redevelopment project to repurpose the building from retail into a "leisure anchor" and cultural and civic hub which will require planning permission for change of use.


Introduction

Shrewsbury Shopping is the umbrella title for the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside centres located in the heart of the town centre. The Pride Hill centre, which the council bought along with the Darwin and Riverside Centres in 2018, is set to undergo a large redevelopment project to repurpose the building from retail into a "leisure anchor" and cultural and civic hub which will require planning permission for change of use.

New shop front in Shropshire, looking colourful with balloons


The challenge

The primary purpose of purchasing the Pride Hill Centre and others was to support the economic growth and regeneration of Shrewsbury town centre. By having control of the Pride Hill Centre, Shropshire Council can evolve the offer to meet changing consumer behaviour and offer a development solution which reflects a more sustainable town centre offer. The centre had a high numbers of vacant units as well as a reduction in footfall and was not being used to its full capacity.


The solution

The council purchased the Pride Hill Centre and others, knowing that retail was changing and knowing that they needed to positively drive that change. They looked at long term vacancies within Pride Hill as space for alternative uses beyond the normal food & beverage options, including new civic, cultural, residential or hospitality tenants. The council is driving experience-led destinations within the town, and the Pride Hill Centre has been marked for this purpose and detailed in a business plan.


Lessons learned

Unlike many other towns in the UK, Shrewsbury is in a much stronger position because of the council’s forward-thinking vision to purchase the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside centres in 2018, ensuring local control of the assets and mitigating any delays in responding to market conditions. Without council intervention the regeneration works would not have been prioritised, having been deemed not essential by the previous institutional landlords.

The Pride Hill Centre was no longer viable as a retail destination and relocating retail units from this centre will improve the imbalance of retail supply and demand in the town. The Darwin Centre will become the primary covered retail destination in Shrewsbury and the vision is for its retail mix to evolve into more of a community-led shopping centre with a strong mix of independent and national brands. A new specially-created shopping gallery for independent traders called The Collective has already opened in the former QVC unit in the Darwin Centre, fulfilling an increasing public desire to support local businesses, and helping small independent shops trade in the town centre by offering affordable and flexible terms.

Now more than ever there is a national focus on the future of UK town centres and Shrewsbury is already leading on the process through the Big Town Plan, as it positively engages with the community and stakeholders across the town centre to inform the decision-making process for the future. What is imperative is that the long-term vision for the future of Shrewsbury is not overshadowed by short term challenges as the retail and business sectors adjust to new markets and changes in consumer shopping patterns.