FOR years thecentre:mk has been renowned as one of the biggest and best places to shop, eat and socialise and soon, under the supervision of centre director Robert Hall and development director, Jon Weymouth, it could become even better.
The latest plans will see refurbishment work carried out at John Lewis and the submission for planning consent for two more stores close to the centre’s landmark clock.
Mr Weymouth’s last claim to fame was the rebuild of the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre after it was destroyed by bomb attacks. That work took eight years and cost around £150 million.
In the early 70s Mr Hall worked as a retailer for WHSmith and over the last seven years has been involved in and launched major regional shopping destinations including WestQuay in Southampton, Bullring Birmingham, Westfield London and Bluewater in Kent; he brings all of this knowledge to his work at thecentre:mk.
He said: “I’m an enthusiast of cities. I admire the work that has been done around the area in the various estates.
“For the centre we are following the principles of the original architects. I love that design and as a long time supporter and resident of Milton Keynes I want to see that sympathetically evolve to cater for the modern retailer requirements.”
Multi-million pound plans will see the John Lewis store enhanced and refurbished, but only to the present boundary of the shop’s plans before the start of Middleton Hall.
Mr Hall said: “We know thecentre:mk is a listed building and we respect the heritage. But in the future we want this to be a place you can stay and be more sociable, not just come, shop and then leave.
“We believe in evolution not revolution so we want to stick to the original visions of the architects. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve the centre we want to take. However, if it doesn’t work for people then it doesn’t work for us.”
Over the last decade there has been significant growth in footfall but 10 per cent fewer people have arrived by car. A growth of six per cent in public transport has also occurred with a 22 per cent increase in shoppers from outside the city.
Another development being considered, although not yet in the planning application stage, is the £30 million expansion at Secklow Gate which will see the market reinstated to an area between the shopping centre and Midsummer Place, opposite The Point. Around 400 retail and 250 construction jobs will be created.
Mr Weymouth said: “We feel thecentre:mk doesn’t present itself fully as a shopping destination and if this development goes ahead in the next few years we think it will advertise itself. The expansion may see the changing of one of the city’s grid roads and people coming to the consultations have made some very valid points. We want to work with them, and not only take their questions but answer them and then see if we can make changes.”
In December last year an exhibition was held to encourage discussion about the proposed development and many took the opportunity to express their views.
Mr Hall added: “A lot of people refer to the bridge closure but when that happened before there was a lot of confusion due to a lack of signage and explanation.
“However, we are envisaging a proper signage package with clear direction telling people where to go.
“We need debates and thoughts though because our success is their success.”
Both Mr Hall and Mr Weymouth are hoping the whole process can be as transparent as possible with public involvement throughout.
Mr Hall said: “We are not faceless, we’re trustees of the building and the pension holders we represent, many of whom live in the region and have a stakeholding in this property. we don’t want to damage the centre or its image.
“Our competition is expanding and we need to react in order to maintain our regional position as the shopping destination of choice.”