Beeston hailed as ‘model for post-Covid town centre development’

The Beeston Social will open in the new scheme

A mixed-use development in the Midlands is being hailed as a model for the post-COVID revival of the UK’s town centres.

The Beeston Square development in Nottinghamshire, masterplanned and designed by Nottingham’s Leonard Design Architects, will see its first phase go live next month – opening the first brand new cinema and town square complex after lockdown.

It is planned to be surrounded by cafes and restaurants, supported by a large-scale residential development alongside, and served by a tram-bus transport interchange which connects it to both Nottingham city centre and a series of suburbs and communities.

The cinema complex, which is being occupied by Irish operator The Arc Cinema, sits alongside the site of a proposed 132-apartment residential development, which is also expected to support both existing retail in the town centre and a new range of food and beverage operators.

Ruth Hyde, CEO of Broxtowe Borough Council, said: “In the cold light of COVID and climate change, we have thought long and hard about the future of our town centres, both in terms of the short-term support we can secure for our communities and the local economy and in the long-term need to help them recover and evolve but remain attractive.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution and the important thing is to understand the reality of the challenges our towns face, focus on their particular strengths, and keep a dialogue going with the businesses based in them and the communities who use them about how we can progress.

“What we have done in Beeston is work very closely with our commercial partners in this project to scope out a development which we believe will not only serve the existing community but attract new visitors and provide real vitality through new residential space.”

The ambitious borough is also one of five local authorities who have joined forces to create a proposed East Midlands Development Corporation. The initiative is promoting a series of large-scale developments forecast to create 84,000 jobs and add £4.8bn to the regional economy – among them the proposed East Midlands Freeport a few miles away.

Hyde added: “There are strong reasons to be optimistic about the future for the East Midlands. The important thing for all local authorities is to be flexible and adaptable to changing needs and circumstances. We’re committed to improving all of our town centres but what we aim to achieve in each one will be subtly different.”

The Leonard Design Architects team has been led by director John Morgan, whose portfolio includes a number of landmark retail and mixed-use developments in city centres across the UK, including the Heart of the City masterplan in Sheffield and the Sneinton Market project in Nottingham. It has also delivered city developments in Berlin, Copenhagen and Oslo.

Morgan says the approach taken by Broxtowe Borough Council stands out because of its willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

He said: “The key is to recognise that while consumer behaviour continues to evolve, the desire for leisure experiences continues to grow. What this scheme acknowledges is that whilst you can’t reinvent the past in terms of retail, you can embrace a future which avoids some of the unnecessarily gloomy predictions about the viability of town centres.

“In particular, what Broxtowe Borough Council has built on is the raw numbers of a community which remains a dormitory for a number of large-scale institutions, including the UK headquarters of Boots and the University of Nottingham.”

Morgan added: “Broxtowe never veered from the fundamental potential of the location and, therefore, their belief in its viability. What they were willing to do was think differently in terms of how the development was structured, tailoring the core leisure element to a potential end user but being flexible about the residential element provided design coherence was maintained. That flexibility is why we believe this could well become a model for similar town centre revitalization projects.”

Nick Ferris, from joint agent JLL, said: “Much has been said about the challenges facing town centres. What we have here is a local authority and a place that’s actually come up with a coherent proposition to turn those challenges into renewed vitality viability with a gateway development.”

Will Torr, of joint agent HEB, added: “This is a town centre reinventing itself and we’re expecting to make announcements very soon now about the cinema being joined by food and beverage operators. Once the residential element comes on stream, this could be a really significant success story.”

The team behind the development also includes main contractor Bowmer+Kirkland and project manager Faithful+Gould.