In the past there were recognisable hierarchies of retail and service centre in all towns and cities in the UK, ranging from small neighbourhood shops providing mainly convenience goods for a local population, to the city-centre shops selling specialist and comparison goods and providing a wide range of specialised services for the whole urban are and beyond.
From the 1970s onwards, the patterns changed radically. Out-of-town-centre shopping has developed o a large scale, following patterns first seen in the UK and other examples pioneered in France. These changes have been made possible by widespread car ownership which allows people freedom to choose where to go for major shopping trips, rather than leaving them dependent on town centre locations accessible by public transport
Most cities and major towns now have their own out-of-town centre shopping centres, the biggest f which are regional shopping centres that draw their custom from well beyond the city in which they are located. There are now about 10 such regional shopping centres in the UK. They include:
Metro Centre on Tyneside (at last 165,000m squared, the biggest in Western Europe)
Trafford Centre in Greater Manchester
Meadowhall in Sheffield
Merry Hill in the West Midlands
Bluewater in Kent
Cribbs Causeway at Patchway in Bristol
Lakeside at Thurrock
Regional shopping centres/shopping malls have characteristic features
Were built on the edge of a major conurbation, where land is cheaper than in the centres
Were built on land that was derelict – this made the land comparatively cheap and planning permission comparatively easy to gain; however, there were often big costs in cleaning up the land, but these costs were sometimes met, at least in part, by government
Are close to major road transport networks, motorways or major bypass roads
Have plenty of space for car parking that is usually free or at least much cheaper than in the centre
Already had, or soon developed, public transport links by train, bus or new urban transport system
Early in their development attracted one or more major ‘big-name’ stores which, in tern, served to attract other smaller stores
Combine shopping with leisure facilities such as cinemas, bowling alleys, mini fun-fairs etc. and with a variety of cafes, restaurants, bars, food courts, etc.
Are built close to housing areas from which they can draw much of their staff
Expect to attract households and families for the whole-day shopping and leisure experiences, building on the fact that some people have come to regard shopping as a leisure activity
Shopping malls can cause problems
Planning laws now made it unlikely that any similar regional shopping centres will be built in the UK in the near future. They do cause problems, such as the following:
They compete with local shopping centres, both in town centres and in suburban areas and have been blamed, at least in part, for inner-city decline and urban blight
They contribute to the sprawl that affect many parts of the rural-urban fringe
The can cause severe congestion on the nearby motorways, often leading to long tailbacks on linked sections of the road network at peak periods
They can be seen as socially divisive. town centres, with their public transport systems, are accessible to virtually everyone; the out-of-town centres can be difficult and expensive to get to for those without cars. Therefore, they can exclude the poor, the elderly, the under-17s who cannot drive or get lifts, single-parent families and so on.
Reaction from the old urban areas
Once out-of-town centres developed, there was a reaction from the old urban areas. Three key responses to the regional out-of-town centres are:
Redevelopment of town centres – See the Touchwood case study at the weblink below:
The growth of ‘outlet centres’ where large brand-name manufacturers and sellers sell their own goods (often seconds or old lines) direct to the public at lower prices than are available in the main stores. These centres are smaller than the regional centres, have fewer units and are not under one roof. They have their own car parks and some additional facilities, but do not provide the full shopping-as-leisure experience.
The development of smaller shopping centres in suburbs, such as outlet centres and the small centres, sometimes known in North America as ‘box malls’.
Although this expression is not currently in widespread use in the UK, it is quite descriptive. These shopping centres are not ‘all under one roof’ like major centres. Instead, they usually consist of a number of ‘box-shaped’ retail outlets. These often sell specialised goods, such as furniture, DIY materials, consumer electronic goods. They do not specialise in ‘comparison goods’, such as fashion clothes and shoes, which tend to concentrate in larger city centres or major out-of-town shopping centres.
Sometimes these malls are built close to a group of leisure attractions, particularly multiplex cinemas.
Greenbridge Retail and Leisure Park is one such development near Swindon. It covers several acres, the facilities include large-store facilities for a range of household brands, like Boots, Mothercare, Argos, PC World, Currys and JJB – to name but a few! The complex also has a range of leisure activities such as an Empire Cinemas 12-screen multiplex cinema, a Gala Bingo Club, a private health and fitness club and many restaurants and fast-food outlets.