Belfast city centre, with CastleCourt shopping centre: strong rental growth

Wait & see

Published:  01 February, 2004

While retail property in Northern Ireland is performing well, the queue of retailers seeking good-quality space is lengthening

Those involved in the retail property market in Northern Ireland – and especially in Belfast – must be wishing they could fast-forward to 2007. That looks as if it could be the earliest date by which retailers’ overwhelming demand for space could be satisfied.

AM Development (UK)’s 810,000 sq ft Victoria Square development in Belfast city centre, to be anchored by House of Fraser, is on the way. Work has started on preparation and vesting orders, but opening day is a long way off.

AM promises a spectacular scheme, with two multi-level covered streets linking to a 35m-diameter glass dome which will, the company says, be one of the largest covered spaces in a mixed-use development anywhere in Europe.

Meanwhile, William Ewart’s proposal for the city’s Cathedral Quarter – a much smaller scheme – could conceivably see the light of day before Victoria Square. And Westfield’s desire for an extension to its established CastleCourt shopping centre might have to wait until Victoria Square is open.

“However, for the interest of Belfast city centre and the balancing of retail provision within the city-centre core, it is extremely important that ultimately, the extension at CastleCourt should proceed,” opines Colin Mathewson of Osborne King.

The importance of Belfast city centre to major retailers was demonstrated last year by some big lettings. Mango acquired a store in Donegall Place, where rental growth has seen a rise to £275 Zone A, and CastleCourt opened stores for Quiksilver, Dune, La Senza and New Look. CastleCourt can now quote a Zone A high of £230.

Osborne King’s Mathewson believes the city centre will see the £300 Zone A level achieved this year.

There are, of course, plenty of plans for extensions, refurbishments and redevelopments elsewhere in Northern Ireland, and Debenhams, Bhs, New Look and Bon Marché are among the big retailers wanting to extend their representation in the province. But, in shopping-centre terms, there is precious little new build proceeding this year. Last year saw the opening of Omagh’s new town-centre Main Street scheme, with Top Shop, Holland & Barrett, Jean Scene and Subway among the occupiers. Lisney’s Eamonn Murphy, acting with BTWShiells, says Boaz Properties’ scheme will have full occupation by the summer.

The retail-park sector was one that saw much growth last year, and Matalan has been busy expanding in Northern Ireland, following its first store at Boucher Retail Park, Belfast. The city’s 100,000 sq ft Shane Retail Park opened in December, let by DTZ McCombe Pierce and Osborne King and featuring Land of Leather (10,000 sq ft), Reid (15,000 sq ft) and Carpetright (10,000 sq ft).

Construction of the much-delayed Holywood Exchange started last year, and B&Q and Sainsbury are open and trading. The scheme’s 150,000 sq ft retail warehouse terrace is due to open in June, and Osborne King and Harvey Spack Field are the agents. Phase 1 of Sprucefield Retail Park also opened last year, offering Sainsbury, Curry’s and B&Q, while Phase 2 is the subject of a planning application, with the developer seeking a relaxation of the type of occupier permitted.

OK’s Mathewson says: “The retail warehouse market is still relatively young, and the hope is that the planners don’t try to prevent further development, because there is a reasonable need for development in the province. If there is a stalling on warehousing development, that could prevent operators coming across the water.

“They need to open five or six stores and if a stop is put on development, that will stop retailers coming to Northern Ireland.”

Back on the shopping-centre side, Lisney is expecting strong interest in four newly-available units in Northern Ireland’s latest shopping location: the Ronan Shopping centre in Magherafelt. Designed around a mall format, the centre also offers a 12,000 sq ft SuperValu with off licence, an attended car wash and 140 parking spaces.

“The Ronan Centre is one of the most exciting and attractive retail locations in Northern Ireland in recent years and footfall figures are growing steadily towards 12,000 per week,” says Lisney’s Jon Anderson.

But with little other new build coming through, shopping centre owners are intent on making the most of what they have. “The focus is on extensions and really sweating the asset,” says BTWShiells’ Criona Collins.

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