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Andrew Kilpatrick on Swindon, the Brunel Centre and the opportunity that lies within.

wantspacegotspace.co.uk - Andrew Kilpatrick on Swindon, the Brunel Centre and the opportunity that lies within.By now, my interview on Radio 4, as part of a feature on the zombie economy, will have been broadcast and my 15 seconds of national radio fame gone!  

For those who may have missed it, amongst the issues that the programme was discussing, was the challenge being faced by shopping centres in receivership, such as the Brunel Centre, here in Swindon.  

All to often, once a shopping centre goes into receivership, it is the start of a downwards spiral, as receivership is often marked by a lack of funds to promote the centre to encourage shoppers in, and a shortage of money to fund tenant’s incentives to take on empty shops, whether via rent free periods or fitting out cost contributions and so vacancy rates tend to increase.  

Numerous empty shops deter shoppers and footfall tends to slacken, creating a softening of trade for those remaining shops, often resulting in more vacant shops and the start of a downwards spiral.  Where shopping centres have a complicated series of debts, as the Brunel Centre apparently has, getting out of receivership can take some time, which puts the centre in high risk of embarking on the downwards spiral, which, once in, is so hard to reverse, even when a new owner comes along, which is what the Brunel Centre needs.  

Until the pain of the unsustainable old debts is purged and new ownership comes along with fresh ideas and fresh funding, the centre cannot move forward and thus stagnates.  

Obviously, the Brunel Centre is not the only shopping centre in receiver’s hands. The British Council of Shopping Centres recently estimated 1 in 20 shopping centres are in default on loans or in danger of going into default.

Neither is Swindon the only centre to have suffered from recent retailer casualties, which according to the Centre for Retail Research’s briefing. This has seen 47 retailers going into receivership by mid 2012, affecting 3,673 shops and over 44,000 employees and that doesn’t include more recent high profile receiverships of Comet, United Carpets, JJB Sports and Optical Express.  

However, there is a lot of good progress being made elsewhere in Swindon, with the Old College site redevelopment and the phase 1 of Muse’s Union Square redevelopment underway, but the town desperately needs a vibrant shopping centre, able to compete with the sexier centres of Oxford, Bath and Cheltenham.  

Swindon deserves and needs better than a "zombie" shopping centre, stagnating away with no investment, limping along under a burden of unsustainable debt, surviving by paying off interest, but unable to find funds for promotion and revitalisation. 

To see what can be done in Swindon, you only have to look across to the Designer Outlet Centre, where 5 new retailers have recently moved in and which has a planning application to increase shop numbers, which will in turn increase visitor numbers.  

So if there are any business angels out there looking for a new challenge, come to Swindon!

Posted by The Editor (wantspacegotspace) on 27th November 2012 (updated 28/11/2012)

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