Roger Hutchings from the Queensgate Shopping Centre Peterborough talks to the BBC’s Andy Gall about current trading conditions, and departures and arrivals in the Centre. Broadcast at 08:21 on Tuesday 1st June 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
ANDY: It’s eight twenty one now, and there’ll soon be another empty shop at the Queensgate Centre. The Disney Store has decided to pull out after their lease expired. Recently Faith shoe shop also left, and Roger Hutchings is the Manager of Queensgate and joins us now. Good morning Roger.
ROGER: Good morning to you.
ANDY: So why are these shops leaving?
ROGER: Well I think there’s always circumstances surrounding every event. If we take Faith shoe shops, unfortunately Queensgate like other shopping destinations throughout the country have been affected by retailers going into administration, ceasing to trade, and we have lost Faith. That’s undoubtedly the case. In terms of Disney, yes Disney is .. the unit’s becoming available to us, but I think it’s easy to concentrate on the vacancies, and certainly they’re there, but we must also .. we are currently fitting out a shop for Pandora, who are coming in to open within the next couple of months, and negotiations are quite advanced with two or three national retailers to come to Queensgate. So, yes, no-one likes to lose space, or lose retailers and create space, that’s certainly not what we are about, but there is also positive news as well as those shops that are leaving.
ANDY: Because that’s the thing, it’s always a visual representation of the global concern, certainly with the economy around the world, and to see that these places are being shut down, you’ve lost two or three, what’s the main reason for them leaving? Is it because maybe the rates are too high, or they just saying they’re not getting footfall?
ROGER: No no no. It would be inappropriate to discuss individual .. details of individual retailers, but firstly let’s set it in context. The economy is not the most buoyant at the moment, and we’ve seen that nationally. Perhaps the biggest one that sticks in people’s minds is Woolworths. And so the trading environment over the past couple of years has not been good for anyone. But then if we bring that back to Queensgate, there are a variety of reasons why people should leave, but Goldsmiths, for example, recently just completed a nice refit on the shop. So retailers are demonstrating their commitment to the Centre also, and fitting out and investing for the future. So yes, trading times nowhere are massively strong, but we must also look at Queensgate in the context of what’s happening nationally. Our, what we call our void rate, the number of spaces we have, is significantly below the figures that are applying on the national scene. So the percentage of shops we have empty is far below that which you would experience on a national basis.
ANDY: And just to say that there are companies coming in, you mentioned Pandora.
ROGER: Yes. Pandora.
ANDY: What is Pandora then?
ROGER: Pandora is jewellery, jewellery that can be personalised. It’s a very popular aspect of retail at the moment and a growing organisation. We’re delighted to welcome them to Queensgate. They’re going into the unit almost adjacent to Faith.
ANDY: Are you careful though in some ways in that you make sure that you as a sort of architect you’ve got to be careful that you’d get shops that are not too similar and not shops that are of a similar sort of type of material. You’ve got to try and tailor-make it so that .. oh look, we’ve got this here, so don’t put another one of those right opposite?
ROGER: Well there’s always a balance. But this is what we refer to as a tenant mix. So if you go shopping for a pair of shoes you tend to go where there’s more than one shop shop. So it’s having the right balance. But you’re absolutely right. It is so important to create that balance, and not just put all of the same, or not have .. and that has to be counted by where the marketplace is at the moment, which retailers are taking space. Yes it’s by no means very straightforward, and it’s a constant balancing act that’s going on.
ANDY: Ok. So the Disney shop is leaving, what, the end of June?
ROGER: the middle of June, yes.
ANDY: The middle of June, Ok. And do you know if they’re staying in the city, or whether they’re just leaving.
ROGER: Certainly as far as Queensgate is concerned they’re leaving. We will look to take the opportunity that presents to us. And in addition to the Pandora I mentioned, I’m optimistic that within the next month or so we’ll be announcing other names coming into Queensgate.
ANDY: Ok. Now we’re live in Cathedral Square this morning. Do you think that things will pick up in Queensgate once the work is finished, and what’s your general view of what happened in the Square, the process that got to where we are today?
ROGER: I think that Cathedral Square is a long story. Clearly we would all like it to have happened overnight, and be an instant success, but there’s a little bit of omelettes and eggs here. It takes time, I think as a city, and we should recognise that. We’re fortunate to have that level of investment that’s gone into our city centre over the past year or so. It creates a great opportunity. Yes there has been a little bit .. well not a little bit there has been some significant inconveniences along the way. But let not that hide what is a great investment for the city centre, and now it’s incumbent upon the city, and I talk in the broadest sense of that word, to use that Square, to make the best of it, to maintain it in a way that it becomes an attractive destination. And I know already there are events planned to take place, jazz in the square. and the festival, and everything else. So let’s take advantage of that. Yes we have had to go through a little bit of pain along the way, but let us recognise what opportunity it presents.
ANDY: But that seems to be the system with Peterborough, too many times. That there’s this rub with how it got to where it is, and what aspirations we have for it for the future. The positive aspects have to be literally focused upon. Because anyone can be cynical can’t they?
ROGER: The easiest thing in the world is to be negative and not recognise what we’ve got. We are where we are. We’ve got a great investment in that city centre square. Let us use it. And it’s a tremendous .. the things that have happened there, with the demolition of Exchange House, the creation of a new St John’s Square. That creates a great opportunity. And visitors we have to the city, they say, well, it’s a little bit of a mess at the moment, but what an opportunity this presents, and how great it is to see the work going on.
ANDY: Indeed. That’s Roger Hutchings, who’s the manager of Queensgate Shopping Centre. Thank you for talking to us this morning.
ROGER: Thank you.