Assess the Impact Of Out of Town Shopping Centre Retailing Areas on the Regions in Which They Occur.
Prior to 1980s, all shopping centres were located within city centres, such as the Arndale centre in Manchester. Out of town shopping centres sprang up with the increase of the cars, in 1960 39.5% of UK households had no cars, but by the year 2000, this had drastically fallen to 27.4%. This and newly implemented transport link, such as rail, bus and tram opened up a new world to consumers as they were more able to travel away from the CBD. For the first time, this allowed shopping centres to spring up on the outskirts of cities. The Trafford Centre, built in 1998, is an example of an out of town shopping centre. It is located in Trafford, Greater Manchester, and runs adjacent to the Bridgewater Canal. Merry Hill, built in the 1980s, is a further example, located in Brierley Hill, near Dudley in the West Midlands. But what are the effects of developments such as these upon the areas in which they occur?
Traditionally, the shopping hierarchy was such that the CBD had the greatest sphere of influence and low order shops with the smallest, but with the rise of out of town shopping centres, the CBD’s position has been encroached. The Trafford Centre’s ideally located along the M60; it is easily accessible from junctions 9 or 10. There’s also bus links from Manchester and Stockport town centres and plans are in place to extend the metro link in to the area. Out of town centres can be more attractive to customer, given the prior mentioned lower traffic, often lesser parking charges and various other attractions they offer, such as the Trafford centre’s laser quest, cinema, miniature gold, dodgems, bowling, Legoland and arcade. The indoor nature of the shopping centres means that shoppers are also not subject to the weather, which would stem sales on the high street. With access being this easy and attractions being this ripe, shoppers have changed their habits.
Nearby areas such as Manchester’s own CBD, Altrincham and Stockport have been impacted by these changes in shopping habits. The shops of Altrincham’s high street are unable to draw their usual local consumer base, having served 212,000 residents and the local wealthy areas of Hale and Bowden. Shops are unable to compete with the free parking offered by the Trafford centre, which has a much greater sphere of influence, where 95% of people come from a 50 mile radius. This has caused many of the shops to close, having the positive feedback effect of causing other shops to lose business a window shoppers’ decrease. This pattern is reflected across the country, 25% of town shops are now empty in the Midlands. The Arndale centre, located in Manchester’s CBD also suffered, effects were worsened as it was being rebuilt after the 1996 Manchester Bombings and had to compete with the rapidly established Trafford centre Merry Hill also posed this plight to neighbouring town centres. Dudley was the worst affected area as the development coincided with Dudley Council’s implementation of parking charges and, similarly to Altrincham, it lost a large proportion of its customer base and shops had to shut down.
Out of town developments can often spark off redevelopment competitions with town centres, with both fighting to receive the greatest custom. Some may argue however, that the redevelopments already taking place thanks to the bombings in Manchester allowed for modernisation, allowing the Arndale to continually compete with the Trafford Centre. In its previous 1970’s state, it was unable to keep up with the modern, more sociable design of the centre. This arguably lessened the impact, as during the development many concepts used by out of town shopping centres were implemented, such as maximizing the natural light in a previously dark shopping centre in order to be able to compete. Solihull, one of the towns affected by Merry Hill, was not so fortunate; it had to recover from a greater loss of sales. By the 1990s, the Solihull town centre had become seemingly outdated. It was unable to compete with the transport links, the free parking, and the vast array of services including a cinema and citizen’s advice bureau in Merry Hill. Solihull is an example of where some large chains even relocate to out of town shopping centres. But in a positive twist to this negative impact, it spawned a massive redevelopment of the city centre, known as “Touchwood”. Designed to complement the existing architecture, Touchwood was developed as a 60,000m2 shopping and entertainment centre in the centre of the town. In combat against the likes of Merry Hill, it mirrored its attracting features, such as its strategic location on the M42 and its masses of parking spaces. After increasing sales every year since opening, Merry Hill has had to recompete, with plans for a 12 screen cinema, a bowling alley, comedy club, a casino and other leisure activities.
Out of town shopping centres often contribute to urban sprawl taking place on the urban-rural fringe. This has come to the objection of many environmentalists, farmers and those who generally hold appreciation for country areas. Merry Hill was met with protests. It was built on the former Merry Hill farm site, causing a loss of greenbelt land. Furthermore, the development took advantage of a ‘Government Enterprise Zone’, intended initially for the creation of industrial units. Furthermore, it attracted other developments; the owners of Merry Hill even suggest it is creating a new town itself, with new houses appearing alongside. Additionally, since the Touchwood development, the proposed response of Merry Hill, such as the 12 screen cinema, will further increase urban sprawl in the area to the extent where the development is merging with the nearby town centre of Brierley. Trafford Centre, was built on a brownfield site in Dumplington, and so did not meet this opposition. But there’s already evidence to suggest it is attracting further nearby developments, such as the newly ‘Chill Factore’.
Increased road use is another one of the common complaints raised about out of town shopping centres, as the centres can attract so many people in a single day (the Trafford Centre has 27 million visitors each year). The popularity of the Trafford Centre for instance, means that there is often congestion on the M60’s Barton Bridge. Furthermore, centres are often built in rural areas, such as Bluewater in Kent, often spark resentment from locals, those who often do not want change and farmers who fear damage from visitors and resent their land being split by new roads to support the shopping centre.
Despite the seemingly prominent negative impacts of out of town shopping centres, it’s not to suggest that they are in no way beneficial. They contribute greatly to the local employment opportunities; Merry Hill & the Trafford Centre produce opportunities for chefs, store workers, cleaners and various other roles. The Trafford centre currently employs 7,000 people from a local workforce. Furthermore, with the average spend being £100, and 27 million yearly visitors, there is much stimulation for the local economy. Merry Hill similarly employs 2,700 locals and has 21 million visitors per year. The easy access of both sites and, in fact,, all out of town shopping centre sites, means that customers don’t have to compete with CBD traffic, a positive impact of the development as it allows for easy access for consumers and reduces city congestion for commuters.
Conclusively, out of town shopping developments bring wealth to an area and provide jobs. But similarly, they can take that from other surrounding areas. But I feel it important to note that the negative impacts are generally on rival shopping areas and where areas are willing to redevelop, such as the Touchwood centre, success can still be achieved despite their existence. Impacts are generally positive for consumers, who get to walk around, out of the weather in an area that’s easier to access than the CBD, evidence shows that 24% of the Trafford Centre visitors visit once a week and just under 40% visiting once or twice a month. To the greater public though greater traffic congestion and damage to the countryside often takes place. You could even go so far as to say the greater sphere of influence for out of town developments means transport generates more pollution, leaving a greater carbon footprint which could potentially contribute to the greenhouse effect.