City property expert welcomes Friars Walk sale but claims Newport centre is experiencing reverse donut effect

Haydn Thomas of Hutchings and Thomas Chartered Surveyors

It is both welcome and encouraging news that Canadian Investor Talisker Corporation has acquired Friars Walk, exhibiting confidence in the centre and the city generally, says Haydn Thomas, of Newport city centre based Hutchings & Thomas Chartered Surveyors.

Haydn, based at The Estates Office, Gold Tops, said: “Although the centre has been successful, attracting some 10 million visitors per year, a number of units still remain vacant especially in the Dock Street side of the development.

“This lack of demand for units to this area of the Friars Walk development is also extended through into the original retail thoroughfare of the city, Commercial Street. There are a great deal of vacant units on Commercial Street currently with rents in this area which are now at a third of their previous pre-recession levels.

“With the calamitous closure of British Homes Stores (BHS) the former “purple patch” of the retail thoroughfare has now become somewhat of a victim of the success of the Friars Walk development itself.

“As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions a reverse donut affect seems to be happening in the City Centre with Friars Walk creating an issue with retail voids to its fringe.

“It is noticeable when walking through the City Centre that there is change in environment from the pristine and bustling Friars Walk into the much less attractive and somewhat tired area of Commercial Street.

“It is hoped that the new Canadian owners will be increasingly pro-active in letting the units on the Dock Street side of the development and hopefully creating a link for footfall to progress into the Commercial Street area.

“Currently the ease of parking at Friars Walk is only assisting the occupiers of the retail scheme without the spread of footfall throughout the city.  What is required is for the 10 million visitors to be drawn into the remainder of the city which in turn will create more vibrancy on the older parts of the retail thoroughfare.

“It is hoped that the BHS store will find a national occupier which in itself will create a “magnet” to draw shoppers to the Commercial Street area and on the back of that hopefully some of the smaller units alongside will be taken up by not only national but regional occupiers.

“It may be the case that some political intervention is required with incentives to occupiers to locate on the Commercial Street part of the city to hopefully stimulate the area and create occupier demand.

“It may be that the current political situation with regard to the weakened government and fears for the economy may be also stifling occupier demand and an attitude of “wait and see” may currently be being experienced.

“There is no doubt that the Friars Walk development has been a superb addition to the city centre with both the retail element and the leisure side creating busy nightlife however it is important that the remainder of the city benefits from this added attraction and the footfall it creates benefits the remainder of the city centre.”