Eden, High Wycombe
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|Location||High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England|
|Opening date||13 March 2008|
|Developer||Multiplex and Aldersgate Investments|
|No. of stores and services||107 Retail Units (54 new, 53 re-sited)|
|No. of anchor tenants||4|
|Total retail floor area||850,000 square feet (79,000 m2)|
|No. of floors||4|
|Website||Eden High Wycombe|
Eden, known more popularly as the Eden Centre, is a shopping and entertainment complex in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in the south east of England. With a floor area of 850,000 square feet (79,000 m2), it is the 32nd largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom and the largest in the surrounding area.
The centre has 107 shops, a bowling alley, a cinema, a library (which opened on 3 June 2008), parking for 1,600 cars on site, and car parking other car parks available nearby.
The complex is part of a major regeneration of High Wycombe in a bid to transform the town into a regional shopping destination. The complex includes a new bus station and 48 residential flats. The shopping centre opened on 13 March 2008, the bus station opening earlier in July 2006.
Eden attracted one million visitors within two weeks of opening and regularly attracts over 350,000 visitors per week.
Eden formed part of a multi-million programme of investment to transform the town. In 1991, the area later occupied by Eden was known as 'the western desert', and Wycombe District Council placed improving it as a top priority.
Before the construction of Eden, the town centre of High Wycombe contained two shopping centres, the Octagon Centre and the Chilterns Shopping Centre. The Octagon which opened in the 1970s was dated and was incorporated into the redevelopment. High Wycombe has a population of 120,000 people and the town centre was not much of an attraction, with shops spread out over a large area. Moreover, the town was seen as being overshadowed by nearby towns with larger shopping centres, such as the Queensmere Observatory (Slough), King Edward Court (Windsor), the Oracle (Reading), the Chimes (Uxbridge), Harlequin Shopping Centre (Watford) and Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre (Milton Keynes).
A new shopping centre was agreed to rejuvenate the town. The development was known as Western Sector, Project Phoenix and TCR (town centre redevelopment), until the name 'Eden' was announced at the annual meeting of Wycombe District Council on 9 May 2005. This name was recommended by marketing consultants DS Emotion, who had been appointed to choose an appropriate name for the development. Letters written to local newspaper Bucks Free Press revealed a mixed reaction to the name: some readers felt that it was unrelated to local culture and not inclusive for High Wycombe's ethnic community, but others approved of the name and remarked on the sense of calm it evoked.
The new shopping centre would include a new bus station, library, cinema, and a bowling alley. 48 new flats would also be built.
The bid for the contract was won by Stannifer, the construction arm of Multiplex UK. Despite some initial uncertainty when it emerged that Multiplex UK was in financial difficulties related to its rebuilding project at Wembley Stadium, the construction work began in September 2005. Construction was scheduled to begin on 5 September, but there was a delay due to incomplete paperwork, and building work began properly on 30 September. Demolition work started in August, beginning with Iceland.
While Eden was being built, the fencing around the site contained 'vision holes' so that visitors could see the progress being made.
Eden officially opened on 13 March 2008. Free rides on a large ferris wheel named the Wycombe Eye and carnival style celebrations were major parts of the opening ceremony. The actual opening ceremony involved a lone musician beginning in the high street, walking towards the new complex where he was joined by more musicians and dancers.
The opening ceremony was meant to represent the town's ethnic minorities and included lightly dressed dancers. Wycombe Islamic Society criticised the dress of some performers as being inappropriate.
The site for the new complex was to be just south of Oxford Road, a dual carriageway section of the A40 on two flat car parks. The centre would also extend over the site of the old bus station and connect to the existing Octagon Centre, which would be renamed as the Eden Centre. The Tesco store would remain in position throughout, a decision which has been criticised as the centre had to be built around the Tesco.
The Tesco building is considered by some to out of place, compared to the new, modern-looking buildings. Construction of the new centre begun in October 2005 and was to take about two and a half years. As well as the new building containing the new shopping centre, a new multi-storey car park was built to connect with the existing Newlands Car Park and the old part refurbished. The new bus station was built alongside the shopping centre, with direct access to the shops from the bus station. The old bus garage was viewed as dangerous at night with little lighting so the new station was welcomed. The new bus station opened in July 2006.
As well as the shops the new centre contains a 12-screen Cineworld Cinema, a 22-lane AMF Bowling Centre, a 58,000-book library, up from 45,000 books held at the old library. The new library is step-free.
Also constructed along with the centre were a modern 18-bay bus station, with a direct link to the shopping area and a cafe, a 1,500 space car park, which is an extension of the old car park which is located on top of the Tesco store. 48 new apartments were also built on the south side of the centre.
The shopping centre contains 107 shops, of which 54 were new to the town and 53 resited from elsewhere in the town. The two largest stores in the centre are House of Fraser, which is four stories high, and Marks and Spencer, which moved to Eden from the Chiltern Shopping Centre. The complex has eleven restaurants and cafés.
Park and ride
A park and ride operates services between a large car park near junction 4 of the M40 motorway and the town centre, serving Eden, the railway station and the hospital. The service began on 5 September 2005 and operates every 20 minutes during the day.
Effect on the town centre
In 2009, property consultants Colliers CRE conducted a survey of 15 towns and cities across the UK, which revealed that in October 2008 High Wycombe had the highest proportion of empty retail units, at 23.6 per cent. This was attributed to the joint impact of the recession and the opening of Eden, which had drawn many major retailers and shoppers out of other areas of the town.
The town centre of High Wycombe has gradually been moving west and the High Street is no longer the place for high-brand shops though it retains an Argos and a McDonald's, amongst others so is still used by shoppers. The High Street and nearby streets are notable for containing the main banks like HSBC, TSB Bank, Metro Bank and Barclays Bank and it leads the way to the railway station. Supermarket Iceland, who was forced to leave their former site on Desborough Road in 2005 as part of the Eden shopping centre redevelopment, re-opened on the High Street in 2010, occupying the space that previously housed Woolworth's.
Chilterns Shopping Centre
The shopping centre is really a covered thoroughfare with shops on either side. With the opening of the Eden Centre, there was fear that business would be pulled away from the centre, as shops such as Marks and Spencer and Wallis moved to Eden. However, the managers of the centre were more optimistic. and in October 2004 it was announced that a major store would replace the Marks and Spencer. In February 2008 the store was confirmed to be Primark, the new store opened on 1 October 2008. The fears about dereliction of the Chilterns have however been realised in recent years with the closure of the large post office and most of the other shops in the centre, leaving only Wilkos. The centre currently consists of Primark, Wilko & a relatively large branch of Cats Protection (a charity shop).
The large out-of-town John Lewis near the M40 on Holmers Farm Way received some initial competition from Eden, especially House of Fraser, but store bosses were confident that John Lewis's reputation would enable it to retain customers. This has been more than borne out by the fact that in 2013 John Lewis refurbished and expanded the store to include clothing and other departments, incorporating some designer brands into their outfits.
Since August 2009, the shopping centre has held an annual food festival.
Local newspaper the Bucks Free Press received many complaints about the design of the shopping centre, especially the fact that there is not a proper roof, resulting in the centre being compared to a 'wind tunnel'. This is disputable, as the designers had to work their way around the existing Tesco. However general response to the centre was positive. with the centre remaining very busy as of June 2009.
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