MORE big names are expected to make a commitment to move into a £350m shopping centre which will lift Leeds above Manchester in the table of UK retail centres, according to the chief executive of Land Securities.
Robert Noel confirmed that the company’s Trinity Leeds scheme was on course to create 3,000 jobs when it opens in March next year. He also said that further significant investment was planned at Land Securities’ White Rose Centre in south Leeds.
A number of major retailers have already committed to taking space in Trinity Leeds, including Marks & Spencer and Primark.
Mr Noel said: “The scheme is pretty well on schedule. We were held back on the roof because of the bad weather that we’ve all suffered over the last six months or so. We’re confident of reaching practical completion in February, which means we’re on track for opening the centre in March. This is a very important addition to the jigsaw puzzle that is Leeds city centre.”
Mr Noel said Leeds was “a hugely important centre” and will rank above Manchester as a shopping destination when Trinity Leeds is completed.
He added: “Leeds will be the third (biggest) retail centre in the UK.” Mr Noel stressed that Land Securities was “absolutely on track” with its letting plans for Trinity Leeds.
He added: “We announced at our results on May 16 that we were pretty well 70 per cent spoken for, so we’ve got 30 per cent to go and there will be more big names included in that.
“Our next announcement will come mid way through next month, just before our AGM, when we put out our interim management statement. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to say by then that we’ll be five to 10 per cent ahead of where we were in May. Most of the big units have now been taken.”
He added: “It’s very rare to get a shopping centre fully let on opening. The only time we’ve achieved it was in the City of London last year.”
Mr Noel, who became group chief executive of Land Securities in April when he took over from Francis Salway, was born in Burley-in-Wharfedale, in West Yorkshire.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Land Securities planned to double the space given over to restaurants and leisure in the Trinity Leeds scheme.
“Consumer patterns are changing very quickly in the UK,’’ Mr Noel said. “They have shifted particularly over the last five to 10 years. What’s happening is we’re moving swiftly to three channels.
“There’s convenience shopping, and repeat shopping, which we’re increasingly doing online, particularly among the male population. Then you’ve got your family shop, which is being done less frequently, but you’re spending a longer time doing it, and you’re taking your kids with you.
“Generally, you require to be fed, watered and entertained. This is why there is an increase in the food and beverage offering.”
With these factors in mind, Trinity Leeds will devote up to 20 per cent of space to retail and leisure, which is double the traditional 10 per cent.
“Land Securities took a very brave decision in 2010,’’ said Mr Noel. “We were the first property company to start major development in the UK.
“The view we took – and we have to take this view because we are a large business dealing with large sizes – is that you have to look through the (economic) cycle. One of the things that endears us to Leeds is the fact that we know it well. We’ve invested in the city for 15 years with the very successful White Rose.
“We saw Leeds as a great city which needed the middle sorting out. We felt that the time to start would be exactly the time when no-one else was building, so that retailer focus was on what we’re delivering.”
Mr Noel said the retail environment was very tough, with retailing and retailers polarising to fewer and more dominant centres.
He added: “Although the UK retail scene is in difficulty – consumers are under real pressure, taxes are up, spending power is down, and non-discretionary spending cost is up – what we’re finding is that if we can concentrate our activity in areas where consumers and retailers want to be, there is plenty of scope for us.”
In common with many business leaders, he was concerned about the state of the global economy.
He added: “Contagion in the eurozone will have an impact on our exports, and that will be very bad news for the UK economy.”
A Land Securities spokesman said: “M&S are extending their store to incorporate a trading frontage within Trinity Leeds – so their existing store will be retained and enlarged to become an integral part of Trinity.”