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Retail Wednesday 21st September 2016

The Lexicon promises Bracknell renaissance

The Lexicon promises Bracknell renaissance

A new breed of development is set to breathe life into the heart of Bracknell. With construction well underway, we caught up with the developers of The Lexicon.

It’s hard to imagine the hope and excitement that greeted the creation of the UK’s New Towns more than five decades ago.

Bracknell was designated a New Town at the end of the 1940s and flourished as an envisaged population of 25,000 grew to today’s level of around 80,000.

However, as the town matured, its centre became tired and, by the Millennium, it was clear that a rejuvenation was required. Bracknell had acquired a reputation for being run-down and unattractive to shoppers and retailers alike, a place in which concrete was the most memorable architectural feature.

Although it has one of the wealthiest catchments in the South East, the area’s residents preferred to shop in nearby towns such as Woking, Camberley, Reading or even London. Bracknell was missing out, so bold new shopping centre plans were brought forward, only to be nipped in the bud by the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 – the town centre remained in limbo.

But fast forward to today and Bracknell stands on the cusp of a new renaissance and will be the first post-war New Town centre to be comprehensively masterplanned, demolished, re-configured and rebuilt. As part of the £768m being spent on the widerregeneration of the town, the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership – a joint venture of Legal & General Capital and Schroder
UK Real Estate Fund – is working with Bracknell Forest Council is investing around £240m in The Lexicon Bracknell. The project will create 580,000 sq ft of retail, restaurant and leisure development in the northern quadrant of the town centre. A further 420,000 sq ft of existing retail and leisure space in the southern portion is being improved, a project which incorporates the  existing Princess Square shopping centre. It is one of the largest urban regeneration schemes currently being built in the UK.

With the benefit of hindsight, the hiatus caused by the recession may have had a major silver lining for Bracknell as it has enabled a development to be brought forward which is far more in step with the post-internet shopping age.

“This is a town centre project, not the development of a shopping centre,” says Simon Russian, Head of Development, Bracknell at L&G.

“There is no ‘front door’ to the scheme; it just moulds itself naturally into the streetscape of the town.”

Richard Poyser, Retail Leasing Manager for The Lexicon, explains that this approach was influenced by various focus groups that the partnership ran over the years.

There is no 'front door' to the scheme; it just moulds itself naturally into the streetscape of the the town.

“People didn’t really want an homogenous shopping centre dropped into their town; they wanted something that was much more organic, using materials in keeping with Bracknell Forest. Previously, it was a poor reflection of the affluent catchment and now we’re bringing in soft finishes and green walls to make it a much nicer environment.”

For many years, Bracknell had few good retail choices for its shoppers but a major milestone along the road to regeneration was Waitrose’s decision in 2011 to open a new store in the town. It was the first new retail building in Bracknell town centre for 25 years and has proved to be a game changer.

Simon Russian reports: “As soon as the store opened, a different demographic started to appear in the town centre. That gave us the confidence that if you give people what they want, they will come and shop – no matter what past perceptions may have been”.

In step with new shopper needs, Waitrose has installed a John Lewis click-and-collect facility at its Bracknell store. Schroders investment manager, Harry Pickering, sees this as emblematic of a bigger trend: “Accessibility is key to today’s shoppers.
If retailers are using click-and-collect to drive footfall, Bracknell has the ability to accommodate that. We’ve also included new access routes and an extra, 300 parking spaces to bring the car capacity to almost 4,000 as part of local infrastructure improvements.”

Other new retailers heading for The Lexicon include Fenwick which is creating a three-storey, 80,000 sq ft flagship store – its first full-line, new build store for 14 years.

Pre-letting for the scheme remains strong post the EU referendum, demonstrating the resilience of the occupier market, and continued confidence by retailers and food & beverage occupiers in high-quality shopping destinations with strong catchments. Already 66% of the total floor area has been let a year ahead of opening. Kids’ stationary brand, Smiggle; jeweller Beaverbrooks; and shoe retailer, Footlocker, have all recently signed to join the retail line-up.

Delivering an attractive and diverse leisure component is also central to the project. More than 600 new homes are being built
in the town centre and that will create a neighbourhood with 24/7 needs.

“There is increasing appetite for leisure from customers and residents,” says Richard Poyser. “At the moment, Bracknell only has a cinema on the edge of town and there’s a lack of good casual restaurants. As well as strong daytime attractions, we need to build an evening economy that is more reflective of the affluent catchment.”

The Lexicon includes Fenwick which is a threestorey, 80,000 sq ft flagship store - its first new opening for 14 years

Symbolic of the multi-faceted approach being taken, is the refurbishment of The Bull – an original 16th century pub that has survived the ravages of a New Town being developed around it. The partnership has obtained consent to
refurbish and extend the building to provide a restaurant.

The Lexicon will open its many and varied doors next year and should prove to be Bracknell’s greatest leap forward since it won New Town status all those years ago.