Hannah Milne is head of the Crown Estate’s £2.3bn regional portfolio which encompasses a range of prime retail and leisure assets.
As the summer came to a close, Dom Millar caught up with her for a drink at a favourite venue.
Hi Hannah, what would you like to drink?
Seeing as we are in Cicchetti, I’ll have a glass of Italian white wine.
How’s your summer been? Any chance to get away on holiday?
We’ve just been down to Provence in France. It was good to see a bit of sunshine and also dust-off my rusty French…
Your portfolio stretches from Edinburgh to Exeter: do you like to be able to visit the assets regularly?
There’s no substitute for local knowledge when it comes to delivering what retailers and customers want, so I try to get out and about as much as possible. Although that has become more challenging as the scale and size of the portfolio has grown – we now own 15 retail parks, three shopping centres and two leisure destinations. Thankfully, our very talented team has doubled since I joined in 2011.
They work hard with our managing agent, Savills, to make sure we’re plugged into what’s happening on the ground. You must be excited about the Oxford Westgate development?
Very much so! We’re working in partnership with Land Securities to deliver our most ambitious scheme to date, right in the heart of a worldfamous historic city. Westgate will totally transform the retail and leisure experience in Oxford – providing over 100 new stores, 25 new restaurants and cafés set amongst covered streets, arcades, lanes and squares. It’s due to open in spring next year and it’s already more than half pre-let, including a John Lewis anchor store, Michael Kors, Next, Superdry, H&M and the boutique cinema chain, Curzon Cinemas.
Any other notable projects in the regional portfolio that are coming up?
There’s quite a bit going on – we’ve got a development pipeline of around 2m sq ft across the portfolio. A landmark opening will be Rushden Lakes in Northampton next autumn which we’re funding in partnership with LXB. This development is really going to be pushing the boundaries; it’s very much a next generation scheme for retail and leisure as well as sustainability. Along
with attracting brands which have never traded out of town before, like Jigsaw and Phase 8, you’ll be able to go cycling
How are the plans coming along for the leisure extension at Princesshay centre in Exeter?
Again, this is about ensuring we’ve got a high-quality leisure offer alongside the existing retail. Just like Westgate, this is a major scheme in a historic location so there’s lots to consider and it takes time, but we’ve just held a busy and positive public consultation on design matters following planning permission granted earlier this year.
What do you see as being the main challenge to UK regional retailing at present?
The pace of change for consumer and technological trends is something that keeps everyone on their toes, and our job is to make sure we’re working closely with
our retailers to stay ahead of the game and deliver what’s needed. Retailers are also facing some challenges around adapting to the living wage and changes to business rates, set against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty. Ultimately though, we’re confident that high-quality schemes in the right locations are going to keep doing well.
Where do you like to shop? Any favourite brands?
It sounds terrible, but I don’t seem to have much time to shop! So I love department brands like John Lewis and House of Fraser who offer a range of brands under one roof.
Snack time: what do you fancy?
Anything here as I love Italian food!
Hannah and Dom met for a drink at the bar of Cicchetti on London’s Piccadilly. The restaurant reinterprets the delightful Venetian culinary custom of cicchetti – delicious small plate dishes to share or eat alone, enjoyed with a beer or glass of wine.
Each season Cicchetti launches a new, expertly-crafted menu. While still retaining the favourites, the new dishes feature the freshest and best seasonal ingredients sourced from markets in Milan.
With an Italian chairman, Italian director, Italian chefs, Cicchetti is an authentic Italian restaurant.
London W1J 9HL
020 7494 9435