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Retail ‘safe from downturn’

A leading retail executive has said he expects schemes already being planned to be given the go-ahead despite mounting concern over the global credit crunch.

This week, a £500 million scheme in Portsmouth was due to be scaled back because of funding worries caused by the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.

A meeting of the city - council’s planning committee met on Tuesday night to discuss how much the Northern -Quarter, which was first announced five years ago, would be downsized.

But British Council of Shopping Centres chief executive Michael Green said the sector was having its busiest 12 months for 20 years.

He said: “We are currently experiencing our biggest year of development, which is completely illogical if you listen to everything that is being said. These new centres continue to be leased. Everything is cyclical and people see this as a one or two year blip.”

He also predicted the refurbishment sector would enjoy a boom as operators were forced to spruce up their existing centres in order to compete with the new schemes - 14 of which will open this year including the Paradise Street scheme being built by Laing O’Rourke in Liverpool and the Westfield London complex in White City.

Mr Green said: “If property owners in other locations sit back and do nothing, they will just be sucked up and die.”

But Richard Taylor, partner and head of retail at project and costs consultant Davis Langdon, said some schemes could struggle to get off the ground.

He said: “The schemes that could be in doubt are those at the planning stage because of the credit crunch issues.

“Everyone is being affected by the credit crunch but at some time everyone will have to go and get further sales.”

He added that 2008 and 2009 were still looking good for the High Street and that dozens more schemes were due to come on board by 2013.

Mr Green said sustainability would continue to be a buzzword for new developments this year as owners looked to prove their green credentials.