MILTON Keynes is slipping down the rankings as a shopping destination and something needs to be done about it.
That’s the view of bosses at thecentre:mk who are overseeing some of the biggest changes in the short history of the new city.
Robert Hall, centre director of thecentre:mk and other members of the senior management team faced a sceptical public when renewed plans for a 90,000 sq-ft three-storey Primark store in the Secklow Gate bridge gap went on two days of public display on Friday.
The display is a precursor to a full planning application being lodged with Milton Keynes Council.
The £40million 107,000 sq-ft extension would mean the demolition of half of the bridge and the relocation of the market stalls to an open area close to the new Primark entrance.
Retail chiefs see the Primark investment as a major coup for the city and one which other regional centres would give their “right arms for”. The plan, which could be completed by October 2015, is in addition to the £27million being spent on refurbishing John Lewis, a £6million extension and refit of Next and a £4.5million refurbishment at House of Fraser, which completed at the end of last year.
Jonathan Weymouth, development director at thecentre:mk, said Milton Keynes has slipped to 39th place in national shopping destination rankings, behind places like Livingston in Scotland, Guildford and Cambridge and needed to reverse that trend. The shopping centre does however remain in the top 10 for retail spending.
Mr Weymouth said: “You have to move, change and invest. You cannot be complacent, you’ve always got to look forward.”
Primark is understood to have wanted to open a major store at thecentre:mk alongside one at stadium:mk because Milton Keynes is still growing and because the population comprises its target market.
Robert Hall, the centre director, sees the scheme as the first part of an integrated plan to open up and link up the different parts of the city centre, making it easier for people to move between Xscape, the Theatre District, Midsummer Place, the Food Centre and thecentre:mk.
Currently an estimated 53 million people visit the central area each year but only half that number go to thecentre:mk. Mr Hall believes that is because the centre is a confusing place to visit.
And as people increasingly look to one-stop visits to shop, to go to the new casino at Xscape and to the Theatre District, Milton Keynes must become more integrated in its thinking, Mr Hall said.
But residents who visited the public dispay of plans on Friday remained implaccably opposed, which may indicate a fierce planning battle ahead. .