Twelve months on from the opening of the Friars Walk development it is an opportune time to look at the last twelve months and see how the new development has influenced the City or if any influence has been felt at all, says Haydn Thomas, of Hutchings & Thomas Chartered Surveyors, Gold Tops, Newport:
Being a Newport boy and growing up in this former town one thing Newport had lacked was decent leisure offer especially any variety of national restaurant chains.
With the advent of Friars Walk the city now boasts a number of major players including Las Iguanas, Le Bistrot Pierre, Nando’s, among others.
With regard to the retail offer the city had always been fairly strong in its retail provision with Commercial Street and Kingsway providing the majority of the shopping supply. The issue with this sector had been the lack of modern retail accommodation with many of the Commercial Street units being the older Victorian buildings which had been redeveloped to create the required open plan floor space which in many cases was still fairly inadequate.
The Friars Walk development provides modern retail space which has been received well with occupiers and led to many “new occupiers” being attracted to the city. The fact that the development was anchored by a new Debenhams department store was also a major factor as again the city had never had a major national department store occupier.
Although the exodus of retail operators had already began prior to the Friars Walk development starting we feel that the development has helped to retain some occupiers which may have also made the move “out of town” and feel that over the next 12-18 months more occupiers will begin to look at the city as its success is realised.
Although Commercial Street had become somewhat of a ghost town and still is experiencing some difficulties, namely the closure of BHS, confidence shown by occupiers such as Sports Direct will hopefully act as a catalyst to improve this area.
It was a concern that the development at Friars Walk may have created a reserved “doughnut affect” whereby the economic activity and focus is on a small area of the city centre with the remainder becoming somewhat secondary or even tertiary and experiencing further economic problems with this lack of focus and foot fall.
Although some areas initially have experienced some issues it has been noticeable that the take up of smaller units within the city has been increasing with many local companies seeing the opportunity to benefit from the retention of shoppers within the city through the Friars Walk scheme.
It has also been noticeable that there has been a move towards conversion of upper floors of secondary retail space to residential accommodation which will hopefully improve the vibrancy of the city and create a city community after commercial trading hours.
The positive effects of Friars Walk to the city have been noticeable and although some of the commercial improvements were possibly in the pipe line prior to the development it has led to a commutative affect of confidence within Newport itself which has enabled other developments and developers to “press the button” on planned investment.
It will be interesting to see the effects that Brexit may have on the economy generally although despite some negativity Newport does seem to be well placed to deal with any potential economic negatives that may arise in the next couple of years.