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Saturday02 August 2014

David Atcherley-Symes of Land Securities

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As Land Securities opens its 60-shop retail mall at One New Change, retail manager David Atcherley-Symes discusses what makes a successful shopping development in a recession.

Knowing what both shoppers and tenants love is essential to making a retail development work and Land Securities is confident it has done that with One New Change, the Jean Nouvel-designed mall opposite St Paul’s in the City of London.

David Atcherley-Symes, retail manager of developer Land Securities’ London portfolio, nods approvingly as Sanya Tomic, partner with the project’s executive architect Sidell Gibson, explains that they had to persuade Jean Nouvel to move one of the central malls to improve the depth of the retail units.

“If you don’t have functional input at an early stage, you can find yourself with something that is not viable,” says Atcherley-Symes, who joined Land Securities two years ago.

One New Change was a rare opportunity for Land Securities to develop a large site in central London, but despite its unique location and high-earning catchment area, its retail offering still had to satisfy some fundamental rules that apply to all the developer’s sites.

“You have to go back to some very basic property dynamics of location, customer base and available spend,” says Atcherley-Symes.

One essential was to pitch development at the right level – at the middle ground of those who earn between £25,000 and £75,000 a year and the predominantly young, who are aware of brands, but who also like to see some original names. Jamie Oliver may be opening a new restaurant venture at One New Change but there’s also room for tenants such as Bea’s of Bloomsbury, a shabby chic café with fantastic cakes that sold more in one hour from its new café than it does in a day at its other site.

“This is the style that Londoners love,” says Atcherley-Symes.

The great advantage about a scheme of the size of One New Change is that it enables “comparison” shopping between brands. With the exception of Top Shop on the ground floor, most of the early tenants went into the lower ground floor, partly because the units there are of a more conventional shape, which retailers prefer.

They are also reluctant to follow strict guidelines on signage and frontage, forcing Atcherley-Symes into a policing role. The advantage of these guidelines, he says, is that by following them the retailer is virtually guaranteed planning permission. On the first floor catering and restaurants are key, says Atcherley-Symes, and the units were given the air extracts and other facilities they would need.

Still, he says, “whatever you build is wrong,” as people want larger or smaller units. “You have to be flexible. My job was to let 60% in the depths of the recession.”

Despite One New Change’s high-profile opening at the end of October, only 20% of Land Securities’ London portfolio is retail.

There is one more major retail development on the go, the Park House project now under construction opposite Marks & Spencer at the west end of Oxford Street. Designed by Robin Partington Architects, this is an unusual chance to redevelop an entire block in this location. There will be 11 shops each 9m high, set side by side in a conventional high street arrangement.

But most of the London retail plays second fiddle to the facilities above – an approach Land Securities finds works. Whereas Park House has 8,140sq m of retail out of a total of just under 30,000sq m of development, Selborne House in Victoria (designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and Swanke Hayden Connell Architects) has only 1,540sq m of retail out of a total of 25,000sq m. Wellington House, also in Victoria (designed by John McAslan & Partners) has only 250sq m of retail in a residential scheme.

At these ratios, “we will provide the retail that the building users want,” says Atcherley-Symes. “We don’t have to be too greedy about the return.”

Nationally, the picture is different, with a retail portfolio valued at £4.4 million, split between in-town and out-of-town developments.

The highest profile project is the Trinity Leeds development, designed by Chapman Taylor, on which Land Securities committed to proceed in July. It is already 44% pre-let, although it will not complete until 2013. This is intended to be relatively open to the streets, not gated off and separate from the rest of the city.

Richard Akers, Land Securities’ managing director for retail, believes the “permeability” of developments like this and One New Change gives them a staying power evidenced by the developments of the past 15 years or so which, he says, “still look fresh”. Unfortunately, “I can’t say the same for the buildings of the 1980s and earlier. Some of them were very poor quality.” Many need either drastic reworking or complete replacement.

Even outside London, sites with an unfilled retail need are becoming scarcer. In London, development is even more restricted and there is unlikely to be the opportunity for another the size of One New Change in the foreseeable future.

But for Atcherley-Symes, who has worked in retail development all his working life, including running his own company before joining Land Securities, this is still a dream job.

“I love the science and psychology of shopping,” he says. However, he admits that he leaves the actual purchasing to his wife. “I spend too much money,” he confesses.

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