Towns that are struggling with the retail decline have strong contributions to make to the regional economy if they reinvent themselves with a distinct niche, according to a Yorkshire property developer.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday during the launch of a new venture, Chris Gilman, managing director of Leeds-based GMI Property, said he believes the future of towns like Wakefield and Huddersfield lies in differentiation.
“For Wakefield, there’s the museums and cultural element, for Huddersfield, there’s a strong music scene,” he said. “Everyone is trying to differentiate themselves and I think that is the right answer. You can’t just build a £50m office block in a town centre and expect it to do well. We have to move away from that and find the right product for the right place.”
The decline of shops is forcing local authorities and developers to create a new future for towns where people can live, work and play. “There will be less retail space and it’s about getting people into towns for other reasons,” he added.
Mr Gilman announced yesterday that he has joined forces with Gerard Downes, managing director of York-based investment firm Capital Property Partners, to launch a new development company, backed by Homeserve founder Richard Harpin.
Urban Life Developments will focus on the revival of northern towns and cities by building urban mixed-use schemes.
GMI Property, part of the GMI Holdings Group, built Thorpe Park and Bridgewater Place in Leeds. Capital Property Partners, which is behind projects including The GlassHouse at Queens Gardens in Hull, is backed by Mr Harpin. He will act as a strategic advisor and principal investor to Urban Life Developments.
Chris Gilman said: “We have established Urban Life Developments to address the very real need for towns and cities across the North to redefine themselves to ensure long-term survival. The high street is not just about retail, in fact those centres where retail occupies most of the floorspace are the ones that are struggling.
“Successful centres have strong employment opportunities, a significant residential offer and attractive cultural and civic spaces. We want to partner with local authorities to help develop places where people will want to live, work, shop and spend leisure time.”
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