Flemingate planning application aims to avoid Beverley turning retailers away

A planning application has been submitted to meet growing demand for shopping space in Beverley and avoid the town having to turn away retail investment.

Regeneration company Wykeland Group has applied for consent for an overall increase in retail space at the Flemingate centre and to allow for units of sizes that are currently unavailable anywhere in the centre of Beverley, to support the continuing prosperity of the town centre.

The application is aimed at avoiding retailers investing elsewhere, such as Hull, York and Leeds, because units of the size they require are not available to them in Beverley and ensuring the town is best placed to compete with alternative retail destinations.

The planning application is supported by a letter from retail property consultant Michael Fawley, who has 30 years’ experience in the industry and advises some of the UK’s largest property companies and retailers.

He said: “There is currently a ‘dead zone’ of retail units of between 1,000 and 5,000 sq ft that Beverley cannot provide as the largest currently available retail property in the town centre is 914 sq ft. That means Beverley faces turning away quality retailers who will go to other towns and cities that can match their requirements.

“This application aims to ensure those retailers can come to Beverley, to contribute to the continuing development of the town as a vibrant and sustainable retail and visitor destination.”

Current planning consent prohibits any more retail units below 5,000 sq ft at Flemingate. However, the new application suggests this restriction should never have been imposed. It was a late introduction at the original planning meeting in 2009 when councillors considered both the Flemingate development and an out-of-town scheme at Grovehill Road in Beverley.

The Grovehill Road scheme, which has not proceeded, was primarily for an out-of-town retail park which would typically feature large units such as DIY, furniture and electrical goods retailers.

In contrast, Flemingate is a mixed-use retail and leisure development which extends the town centre with a retail offering comprising stores of different shapes and sizes, featuring both multiples and independent traders.

The restriction on units below 5,000 sq ft was also made prior to any marketing of the Flemingate scheme and in very different market conditions.

The 5,000 sq ft unit size is set in context by pointing out that four neighbouring units in Beverley’s Saturday Market – White Stuff, Betfred, Accessorize and Jaeger – amount to just over 5,000 sq ft. St Mary’s Court shopping arcade in Beverley’s Georgian Quarter, which was developed by Wykeland in the 1980s, has nine retail units and is also just over 5,000 sq ft.

The application points out that a recent audit found Beverley had only 14 vacant and available retail units, 4.6% of the total number of units and well under half the national average of 11.3%.

Furthermore, there are 272 units under 5,000 sq ft in Beverley town centre while, due to the restriction, Flemingate has just seven.

The planning application is for a modest increase in mezzanine floorspace of 18,029 sq ft – an increase of around 11% on the current consented retail area – to meet retailers’ requirements for either additional sales area or storage purposes.

It also proposes an increase of seven in the number of units below 5,000 sq ft – of which only three can be below 1,000 sq ft – to ensure the remaining retail floorspace at Flemingate is occupied to deliver fully the benefits of the scheme to Beverley.

The submission states that Beverley “demonstrates high levels of vitality and viability and is highly resilient to any economic impact” and the proposals will further assist in bringing trade into the town centre. It adds the proposed changes will “help deliver the substantial economic, social and environmental benefits of this comprehensive regeneration scheme”.

In his letter, Mr Fawley says the restriction on unit sizes at Flemingate reflected retail trends and demand from the mid-2000s, before the impact of the economic downturn and the rise in online retail sales.

He says demand is now for units around 1,500 to 2,500 sq ft which cannot currently be satisfied at Flemingate, because of the planning restriction, or anywhere else in Beverley because shops of this size are simply not available.

Flemingate is currently fielding 14 retailer enquiries for units of between 1,000 and 4,000 sq ft – 11 of which would be new to Beverley while the others need larger space which is not available in the town.

Mr Fawley adds relaxation of the restriction on unit sizes is “essential” to meet both current retailer requirements and also for the longer term, to ensure the continued prosperity of Beverley as a retail destination.

Mr Fawley said he knew of no similar restrictions on unit sizes at any other town centre development anywhere in the country.

“As time goes on retail requirements change. We are now 10 years down the line from when the Flemingate plans were developed and the market has changed massively since then,” he said.

“Across the country we are seeing retailers wanting less and less space. There are a number of factors in that – the impact of the recession, the rise in internet sales and improved logistics, which mean retailers require less back-of-house space.

“You need flexibility as time goes on to respond to changing retail trends and retailer needs. If retailers can’t get a unit in Beverley that meets their requirements – and, at the moment, they simply can’t – they will go somewhere else.

“Beverley is a prosperous and growing retail destination. This is about ensuring the conditions are in place to ensure it can continue to grow, for the benefit of the town and the wider East Riding.”

The application also includes additional measures to improve linkages between Flemingate and the town centre, including a new crossing on Armstrong Way, dropped kerbs in Railway Square and a potential contribution to improvements to the public realm in Railway Square. Wykeland has already implemented additional fingerpost signage directing pedestrians to the heart of Beverley from Flemingate and areas within the shopping centre will be used to promote events and attractions in the town centre.

Julian Minshall, Chair of the Beverley and District Chamber of Trade, said: “Beverley has seen continuing growth in trade from a diverse and attractive mix of multiple and independent retailers, which has enabled the town to out-perform other retail centres.

“There is clearly strong demand from retailers to come into the town, particularly for shop sizes between 1,000 and 5,000 sq ft, and this application is aimed at satisfying that need.

“Approval for these proposals will ensure the continuing growth and expansion of Beverley’s retail offer, which can only help to increase footfall and spend within our historic market town.”

The 16-acre Flemingate development – Beverley’s largest-ever regeneration scheme – is a £120m investment in the town by Hull-based Wykeland. It includes big-name brands such as Debenhams and H&M as well as local independent retailers. A new campus for East Riding College, 80-bed Premier Inn hotel, six-screen digital cinema, Parkway, and 130 homes are already complete.