Romford Town Centre: 1968-2020

Liberty One, 1968, was the first phase of three linked shopping malls. Phases two and three were Liberty Two, 1990, and The Brewery, 2001. Romford town centre is a dull retailing monoculture. This was irrelevant until Lakeside, 2004, and Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre, 2011 provided better retailing experiences. Latterly e-commerce, a systemic threat, which has been turbo-charged by the Covid-19 pandemic, reconfigured utilitarian shopping. Malls predicated on utilitarian shopping must reinvent their retail offer to survive.

Destination shopping centres should offer a pleasing environment. Romford doesn’t. Plentiful toilet facilities are a necessity. A single set of toilets serve Liberty One and Two. The food courts of the Westfield Shopping Centre, enhance shopping as a leisure activity. Romford has been captured by retailer whales operating out of huge uncompromising units. The Cosgrave ownership period was a disaster as they tried to milk it for yields far beyond what was feasible. (see Addendum)

E-commerce murders utilitarian shops. It demonstrates retail is either a utilitarian transaction or an experience. Romford’s shopping malls can only compete as a leisure activity. Unsuccessful mall owners go to the wall: Intu and Hammerson’s are prime examples. (see Addendum)

Romford is facing an existential crisis. It does however have a competitive advantage because it’s a population centre. Romford’s retail monoculture could be softened by independent traders supplying a ready made customer base living in the proximity. Stranded retail whales, like Debenhams, demand a rethink. This rethink doesn’t include tinkering with variations on the failed strategies of 1968.

Addendum One: the shopping mall crisis
Britain’s biggest mall owners* have suffered catastrophic share price declines. This means the existential crisis hitting Romford town centre is systemic. A systemic challenge requires a fundamental shift in thinking. Cosgrave Property appear to have sold the centre. If the reported price is correct they made a 29% loss in 12 years of ownership, in line with expectations in 2006:
“Cosgrave expects ‘to push rental yields at the Liberty Shopping Centre to 5%’. But sellers Hammerson put this year’s [2006] rental yield on Liberty at just 3.5%, which indicates, say surveyors, that the Cosgraves might have overpaid.”**
The new owners are apparently looking to convert retail to housing. This is a sound strategy.

Addendum Two: The Marks and Spencer site
Late in 2019 Havering Council bought this site for £13.8 million. It was impeccable bad timing. All the signs were in place demonstrating that shopping malls are in terminal decline (see above). This is a classic example of a failure in Council procedures as it wasn’t robustly reviewed by the relevant Overview and Scrutiny committee or stress tested.

* For Intu’s five year share price movement see https://www.hl.co.uk/shares/shares-search-results/i/intu-properties-plc-ordinary-50p
April 2015 = 330p; April 2020 5.17p
For Hammerson’s share price movement see https://www.hl.co.uk/shares/shares-search-results/h/hammerson-ordinary-25p-shares
April 2015 = 650p; April 2020 = 58p
** https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1601635/500m-UK-property-grab-by-Irish-family.html

Sources

For historical pictures see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/romford-pictures-havering-s-proud-brewing-history-explored-in-new-exhibition-1-3215943 and also http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Ind_Coope_Ltd
For Debenhams see https://www.google.co.uk/search?sxsrf=ALeKk01115XWDCSdQ0hBYzGEcBqLbkIE3Q%3A1587657067576&source=hp&ei=a7mhXtzXIMqmaLujuqAJ&q=debenhams+administration+2019&oq=debenhams+administration&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQARgBMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADoFCAAQgwE6BAgjECdQwgpY_1lgnnJoAXAAeACAAVWIAc4LkgECMjSYAQCgAQGqAQdnd3Mtd2l6&sclient=psy-ab
For a hint of the council’s thinking see https://authenticfutures.com/romford-town-centre/
Cosgrave Property appear to have sold the town centre for a £81m loss https://haveringspecial.wordpress.com/tag/cosgrave-property-group/
For a quick press overview see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/havering-council-consultation-romford-town-centre-improvements-1-5863512
For a 2016 press review which reflects many points made in this blog see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/shoppers-and-small-business-owners-fear-for-romford-s-retail-future-1-4691214
For a report on the new owners see https://haveringspecial.wordpress.com/tag/cosgrave-property-group/
For a recent Council discussion see https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6286/Public%20reports%20pack%2025th-Feb-2020%2019.30%20Towns%20Communities%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-%20Committee.pdf?T=10

2 thoughts on “Romford Town Centre: 1968-2020

  1. Dearie me! Love the Place You Liive? Clearly not!!!

    This is not about local politics it is about national and global politics. .Romford and its environs have responded to a global crises. In case you haven’t noticed. I arrived in Romford in 1998 and worked for numerous administrations. What I saw then was a tired town centre, run down and losing the will to live, but successive administrations didn’t. Romford Revival was a brilliant public private sector campaign to rebuild confidence. It did for a time. Even the Night time economy was revived and we started seeing millions of pounds worth of public and private sector investment in this town, where I live by the way. Not just here but across the Borough.

    I came from Bathgate in West Lothian where the closure of British Leyland destroyed thousands of lives. Population 15,000 . Jobs lost 6,000. This followed on from the decline of traditional shale mining industries. Double whammy. You can not imagine the impact that had on the psyche of the community. You complain about retail! Some of the towns I managed were lucky to have a shop, usually selling a couple of bendy carrots in the veg section. We took a new approach to town planning called Economic Regeneration. Understanding the connection between places and people.

    The retail led regeneration of town centres was one that many of us embraced because of the political climate. For your info the Brewery was one of the first In Town of Out Town Shopping Centres in the UK to include an element of social housing. Did you know that? Doubt it.

    It may interest you to know, and lighten your heart, that many people in my Neighbourhood are gaining great solace from the green spaces which my colleagues created – country parks and well planned centres. Local Government has been ground into the dirt. Time to support local politicians of whatever complexion and give them our support.

    This is not a time to point the finger of blame. The Covid viruus has no mercy. But successive local authorities have. Local councillors will continue to do their best so back off and go and check on your neighbours. They may need your help. And please, wear a mask at all times. And gloves.

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    1. Thank you for your comment.

      My sub-heading was going to be: ‘Standing still is going backwards’. But I felt it was too clumsy.

      1 Romford is a victim of planners, councillors and property developers clinging onto a single retail model. Cosgrave started cutting Romford’s throat by ‘sweating’ the resource with too high rents. The government sets the business rate because councillors couldn’t be trusted (Margaret Thatcher). The consequence has been an explosion in business rates with completely unaccountable civil servants milking business.

      2 Utilitarian shopping is where there is a uniformity of offer with very similar units making the offer. This isn’t destination shopping. The variation on this is Westfield which is a pleasing environment with food courts and fine dining. That there’s a single block of toilets for Liberty One and Two is amazing. Havering has an elderly population and this is unacceptable.

      3 E-commerce is brilliant at utilitarian shopping but utterly useless outside its skill set. Romford, as you rightly say, has a night time economy. Unfortunately it too is a monocultural offer with chain pubs dominating South Street. The ‘restaurants’ in The Brewery again are chains with a lack of excitement and can be substituted with takeaway food.

      4 Because there has been a tragic lack of imagination by planners and property developers Romford has many stranded whales.

      5 I too live in Havering and have done so for longer than you. Constructive criticism isn’t corrosive it’s essential to a robust debate about a critical feature of life here.

      Like

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