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Over recent years there have been huge structural changes in the nature of town and city centres across the UK. Changing shopping patterns, the growth of online retailing and then the Covid-19 pandemic have posed huge challenges for traditional shopping centres. 

Stores operated by national multiple retailers, in particular, have now declined year-on-year since 2014, and vacancy rates have increased to over 20% in the North East, with the vacancy levels in many modern purpose-built shopping centres even higher than this. However there remain opportunities. 

The independent retail market has grown every year since the pandemic, and leisure uses alone increased by 904 new units (net) during 2022.

With over 50 retail units extending to around 14,000 sqm, Prince Bishops Place has been particularly exposed to these recent challenges in the retail market. The centre was originally constructed in 1998 with large floor plates and storage/servicing areas which aimed to meet retail requirements at the time.


Unfortunately, these units don’t meet the needs of independent retailers, who generally require smaller floorplates and greater flexibility. This has resulted in around 30% of the existing retail units now lying vacant. 

Many national retailers will only occupy space on terms (including low rents and reverse premiums) which are simply unviable for landlords. This inevitably leads to reduced investment, increased vacancy and a spiral of decline. However, there is a real opportunity to intervene comprehensively at Prince Bishops Place to reposition the centre and place it on a viable path for years to come.

More practically, the existing layout of the centre is inward looking and does not make the most of its proximity to the River Wear or views over the Conservation Area and World Heritage Site. There is also typically very little activity within the centre after 5 pm. Without intervention at this stage, the shopping centre will decline further. 

The scope of the current investment represents a fantastic opportunity both for Prince Bishops Place and Durham City Centre; facilitating the reconfiguration of the High Street to better suit the needs of national and independent retailers and leisure operators, whilst broadening the mix of uses across the scheme in order to ensure its long-term viability and complement the offer across the rest of the City Centre.

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