Blog: 1 August 2016Integration, connection & location key for retail planning

Paul Newton

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Paul Newton

Partner

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Bicester Village sets the bar for the edge of town retail outlet.  Hugely successful, significantly expanded since opening and still growing, it now attracts over 6 million visitors a year and has clearly delivered for shoppers, occupiers, and the local economy in terms of jobs and business rates.  Local residents would however argue it hasn’t done much for them or the wider town.  

With the population of Bicester expected to double over the next 20 years, the proposed redevelopment of the existing sports fields that sit between Bicester Village and the traditional town centre offers a real opportunity.  It also highlights a trend we’re seeing more and more – how to develop the ‘connecting spaces’ between established destinations to create better integrated,  interesting and more dynamic spaces.

The challenge here is to identify, plan and deliver the blend of retail and leisure space that respects the existing players, enhances the total offer, brings new occupiers into the location and importantly complements rather than competes with the established facilities.

So our task as planners and urban designers is to balance uses, footfall, accessibility and permeability to create new development which is successful in itself but is also stronger because of the relationships it has with the town centre and Bicester Village.

The emerging proposals include new shops, restaurants, community facilities and a vibrant leisure offer which physically joins the town centre and Bicester Village but, more than that, establishes a more powerful mental and visual connection too.  A new place that actively engages people and pulls them in – because one of the biggest barriers to Bicester’s overall success is how few visitors venture out of Bicester Village and head into the town centre.

We’re working on retail and leisure-led schemes nationwide and Bicester is by no means alone in facing this conundrum.  There are countless other towns with edge or out of town development with no meaningful connection with the established town centres. This is not necessarily a bad thing but we should continue to challenge ourselves to maximise the opportunity to create integrated places.

What we’re doing in Bicester therefore has relevance and application far beyond, and what we’re learning could contribute to putting an end to some of the failings created by disconnected shopping and leisure environments.

So, get it right, and everyone benefits: the local residents, visitors, tenants and the local authority.  As planners we can also be satisfied that we have created an integrated, complementary, and economically beneficial scheme that will enhance the attraction of the town as a retail and leisure destination.

It’s important to recognise that with the continued push to build new homes and expand our towns and cities, we also need to make sure that infrastructure and services keep up with this growth so we deliver joined up, sustainable and cohesive places to live, work and shop.

Maybe a little bit more of this ‘blend it like Bicester’ thinking is needed elsewhere in the country so that the benefits of existing established facilities can be maximised for the good of local communities, enhancing the fabric of the built environment and creating a real sense of place whilst providing much needed services and facilities.

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Retail, Bicester, Town Centres