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Retail Park Re-think


A constant site on any urban ring road - ‘out of town’ retail parks are vast and everywhere. Overlooked as relics from an era before environmental concerns and online retail, retail parks are ignored during discussions of the urban future. This is a mistake. Retail Parks form a key part of the social and economic life of the suburbs and with imaginative re-working, could offer the flexible spaces for work, leisure and retail future urban life patterns demand.



#1 A dying breed . . . .

In the 1990s, the explosion of out of town retail and leisure parks looked like the future, offering high street brands with the convenience of plentiful free-parking and often proximity to fast food and multiplex cinemas. They offered a calm and comfortable alternative to taking the train into crowded town centres, the perfect Saturday afternoon activity for the suburban family.


Forward thirty years and the acceleration of on-line consumption and exacerbation of the pandemic are rapidly diminishing the dream. The once bright lights and gleaming cladding of these huge expanses have become drab and weathered, the rows of identical warehouse units increasingly peppered with the blank facades of empty spaces.


Retail park vacancy rate is at 8.3% and rising. That’s over 1.6m sqm of built space standing empty. With no quick fix revival likely on the horizon, landlords of retail and leisure parks need to start thinking radically about ways to re-activate these sites. 

Retail Park

#2 No quick fix

Demolition may well be the fate for many, but with the reality of the climate crisis bearing down on us we need to think wider at ways that we can avoid the emissions inherent in demolition and re-building and look to re-use what we have.


Rising to this challenge, MWA have been investigating ways in which a program of adaptation for retail and leisure parks can be developed that is both viable and sustainable.


In areas of high housing demand, conversion to residential seems an obvious solution. With the government intent on allowing further changes to use through permitted development rights that do not require planning consent, this would seem to be an easy win for Landlords. The problem is that the form of most retail parks - deep plan buildings with no windows - is unsuited to residential use without costly re-building that would make it unviable.


In addition, conversion to residential use alone negates the existing social and cultural value of these spaces and does not take advantage of the accessibility and connectivity inherent in many of these sites.

Retail Park Future

ReTail Park Re_Think- Stripping back and exploiting whats already there

#3 - The Future

Instead we have looked at re-positioning these spaces to accommodate a rich variety of uses in a manner that will limit constructions costs both financially and environmentally. In our concept model a typical large retail box is altered at roof level to allow day-light deep into the plan. Following this a series of internal structures and partitions in timber frame construction and light-weight steel form a variety of space sizes and atmospheres to suit an array of activities.


Busy spaces near main entrances are kept open to be filled with retail and food stalls around performance and meeting spaces. Further back, retail units jostle with offices, studios and leisure activities. Cheaper space is reserved for education - extending and connecting with local colleges and universities. Other areas are modelled as meeting space for community groups, child care facilities and and gallery space. Workshop units are fitted into a side wall with direct road access to accommodate light industry and local production. Co-working spaces house desks for flexible workers wanting a break from home working. Large areas are filled by sport use with easy accommodation of indoor courts and gym space.


Between the retained blocks are opportunities for new build housing in place of the existing, extensive car-parking. As the facilities become more local, active travel can play an increasing part with reduced reliance on vehicle access. The remainder of the site is be landscaped into a peripheral park land with extensive planting to improve air quality, play facilities and sports areas.

Retail Park Future
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