Robin Dobson: London brands lured to Leeds, new retail capital of North

Shoppers flock to the opening of Victoria Gate in Leeds.
Shoppers flock to the opening of Victoria Gate in Leeds.
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THE launch of Victoria Gate last week marked the completion of a 15 year journey to deliver a game-changing, retail-led scheme for Leeds that would act as catalyst for regeneration in a part of the city that had been overlooked for some time.

And I believe we have certainly delivered on our promise to the city, creating a retail and leisure destination that is arguably unrivalled in the UK, and one that has already propelled Leeds up the rankings to the third best place to shop in the country.

Even before Hammerson acquired Victoria Gate in 2012, Leeds was identified as an attractive development opportunity for the business. With a chance to capture an estimated £600m of spend that was leaking out into the local catchment area, the business was determined to bring forward a scheme that would bring back people into the city to shop, while also providing valuable job opportunities.

Both of these objectives were supported by a welcoming and proactive city council keen to drive inward investment into an already dynamic and growing city. Over the course of the development more than 1,500 jobs were created, of which 75 per cent were bringing people back into work who had been unemployed for some time.

As a 21st century interpretation of the traditional arcades found throughout the city, Victoria Gate brings together the very best of Leeds, with the design of the building drawing on the city’s rich retail and textile history.

And while the architecture draws on the past, the experience inside the scheme is very much created for the future. With a premium mix of retailers and restaurants, and the added extras of high speed wi-fi, Click & Collect services, and even a luxury concierge service, shoppers are treated to the very best indulgent retail experience.

The city is used to boasting an impressive line-up of luxury brands, Harvey Nichols chose Leeds to build its first store outside of London in 1996, and the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Louis Vuitton are both housed in Victoria Quarter. But what is a real testament to the city is the number of new aspirational brands that have chosen to make their first forays outside of London.

Yes, we’ve created the perfect platform in Victoria Gate but ultimately the strength of the city’s appeal as a vibrant hub for retail in the North is such that 
for more than 75 per cent of 
the brands now open in the scheme, October 20 was their debut in Leeds.

For Anthropologie, CAU, Calvin Klein, COS, GANT, Aspinal of London, Hackett and & Other Stories, opening day marked their first step outside London.

Finally, for shoppers in the North, this means that the trip down to London for some premium retail therapy is no longer a necessity.

But a shopping trip is more than just the stores themselves; the discerning shopper today wants the full experience of a day out. To this end, our dining offer in Victoria Gate matches the retail, with premium names bringing luxurious cuisine to the arcades. Already open are Le Pain Quotidien with its first store in the north and its largest outside of London, and CAU, also making its debut in Leeds. And there’s more to come in spring, when Victoria Gate opens its rooftop restaurants.

On handing over the stunning arcades and the long-awaited John Lewis to Leeds, we were delighted with the initial reaction from the city; it seems the people of Leeds love it as much as we do.

Two thousand customers 
were welcomed through the doors in the first 15 minutes alone, and over the first three days of opening, in excess of 400,000 shoppers visited Victoria.

For a number of our stores, opening day was their most successful launch day ever in terms of sales, and the footfall and sales data we’ve seen from launch weekend significantly surpassed our expectations.

Leeds might now have a new retail, dining and leisure quarter in Victoria and one that I am confident will become a new emblem, paying homage to the retail heritage of Leeds while being a key contributor to the local economy. But more than that, the city now has something that no other city in the UK or Europe has, a scheme that has set new standards for retail.

The opening of Victoria Gate doesn’t mark an end to Hammerson’s investment in the city. We are looking forward to once again working closely with the local community and city council to evaluate what Leeds requires so that we can look forward the second phase of the scheme, and creating something that is complimentary and perhaps might even finally
crown Leeds as the best place to shop and visit outside of London.

Robin Dobson is director of retail development at Hammerson, the property firm behind the Victoria Gate development in Leeds.