Runcorn Shopping City
Town Square inside Runcorn Shopping City
|Location||Runcorn, Cheshire, England|
|Opening date||5th May 1972|
|Owner||BMO Real Estate Partners|
|No. of stores and services||60|
|No. of anchor tenants||1 (The Range)|
|Total retail floor area||545,082 sq ft (50,639.8 m2)|
|No. of floors||3|
|Website||Runcorn Shopping City|
Runcorn Shopping City, formerly Halton Lea and Runcorn Shopping Centre, is a medium-sized indoor shopping centre in Runcorn, Cheshire, England. It is the main shopping area in Runcorn with over 125,000 visitors per week. It was the largest enclosed shopping centre in Europe at the time of its construction and remains the largest in Cheshire. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.
Construction and early years
Designed by Fred Roche CBE, the Chief Architect and Planning Officer of the New Town, Runcorn Shopping City was built on a greenfield site near Halton Village. Roche is best known for his later, seminal role in the creation of Milton Keynes.
The centre was to be the centrepiece of Runcorn New Town. The New Town's master planner, Arthur Ling, envisaged that it would become the "natural meeting place for the town's social and cultural life as well as for shopping, offices and specialised amenities such as theatre, library, central sports hall etc."
Influenced by the fully enclosed, drive-in shopping malls that had begun to emerge in North America in the 1960s, the Shopping City was to house other amenities such as a cinema, post office, library and pub. It was also close to the law courts, the police station and the hospital. The shopping complex itself was to be linked by pedestrian bridges and footpaths to some of the new, modern estates of the New Town, such as the radical but ill-fated Southgate Estate.
Construction began in 1968 by John Laing Group commissioned by Grosvenor Estate Commercial Developments Limited and the Runcorn Development Corporation. The build cost £10 million and was privately financed by Grosvenor. The centre was completed by 1971 and Runcorn Shopping City was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 May 1972.
The building is raised on columns, partly to tackle the valley like topography, but also to allow the segregation of cars, buses and pedestrians. Vehicles arrive at ground level, giving access to the multi-storey car parks on each corner for visitors and to the shop basements for deliveries. Buses arrive on the dedicated raised busways which circle the town in a figure of 8 with the Shopping City at the centre. Pedestrians access the centre at the shopping level by using the four raised walkways, also at each corner of the centre, thus never having to cross a busy road and linking the centre to surrounding developments.
The Shopping City and all of its surrounding ancillary buildings were encased in brilliant white tiles which were chosen to be self-cleansing; their crisp whiteness contrasting with the hill to the north and the trees and dense planting which would come to surround it. On its opening, The Times commented that, 'Shopping City is possibly the nearest planners have come to the sort of building imagined by science fiction writers. In appearance, it resembles a supersonic mosque, with gleaming white bricks even on the dullest day'. It also noted the 'clarity of the design of shops, malls and public squares' and the 'spacious, beautifully lighted shops'.
The interior was finished to a very high standard, with white terrazzo floor tiles used throughout and Sicilian marble lining the walls, columns and shop fronts. The shops are laid out along malls in an H formation, with the 'Town Square' in the centre. There is a second storey around the square intended for restaurants and bars.
At the time of its opening it was the largest fully enclosed shopping centre in Europe. Served by excellent transport links, not just within Runcorn itself (including the town's innovative busway system), but also with surrounding towns and cities, it quickly established itself as a premier shopping destination. By the early 1980s all the units were fully let and new town residents recall the four multi-storey car parks - 2,200 spaces - as being almost full in the early days.
Neglect and decline
The centre's early success at attracting huge numbers of shoppers, brought in by Runcorn's unique transportation system and its central location between Manchester and Liverpool, did not last as the owners at that time, Grosvenor, pushed rents up in an attempt to capitalise on the centre's popularity. Spiralling rents soon saw many of the big names close and move to centres with lower rents.
The centre was bought by Fordgate Midland Properties Limited in January 1989. Many years of mismanagement had left the centre in disrepair. Asbestos in particular was a problem. The previous owners, Grosvenor, had contracted with Laing to encapsulate asbestos in the roof voids and decontaminate those areas in 1988. This became the source of legal disputes between the three parties since Fordgate alleged that Grosvenor had, in the words of Lord Justice Saville, "fraudulently or negligently misrepresented the true condition of the premises so that the Appellants were induced to purchase the premises, believing them to contain treated and encapsulated asbestos when, in fact, the roof voids were dreadfully...contaminated with loose asbestos fibre".
Asbestos, building faults and out of date decor led to a large-scale redevelopment of the interior of the centre and eventually to its renaming to Halton Lea in 1995. In 1999, the centre grew to include a 217,393 sq ft (20,196.5 m2) outdoor shopping park named the Trident Retail Park which was also owned by Fordgate. It hosts many big-name shops such as Sports Direct, Jollyes, Wynsors, TK Maxx and Home Bargains. The flagship unit is a 9-screen cinema complex, now operated by Cineworld.
In 1989, Asda opened a 90,000 sq ft (8,400 m2) superstore on West Lane, later joined by a McDonald's restaurant nearby. The store was later extended to 106,000 sq ft (9,800 m2). Some of the problems the centre was experiencing during the late 1980s and early 1990s were blamed on the Asda Superstore, yet it arguably helped to keep the centre alive, bringing customers to the area during the centre's most difficult years.
In September 2009, Halton Lea was taken into receivership which was managed by Savills, though the centre continued to operate as normal. In September 2010, the centre was put up for sale and on 24 March 2011 it was announced that the centre had been sold to F&C Reit (since rebranded BMO Real Estate Partners) for approximately £29.1 million using an offshore company, Runcorn One Ltd, registered in Guernsey.
However, Fordgate retained ownership of one of the four multi-storey car parks and, in August 2011, attained planning permission to build a 148,348 sq ft superstore (believed but never confirmed to be a Tesco supermarket) in place of the multi-storey car park, East Lane House and the Territorial Army Centre opposite. Fordgate had said they would pay for a replacement TA Centre elsewhere in the town and the plan was approved by Halton Borough Council, despite objections from the new owners of the Shopping City. The scheme did not go ahead and by November 2014 the fourth car park was also under the ownership of BMO. In April the same year, Trident Retail Park was acquired by KWE.
Investment and renewal
BMO's purchase of the Shopping City ushered in a period of significant investment and renewal. In summer 2012 plans were displayed around the centre for the renovation of the exterior of the building and the multi-storey car parks drawn up by architects Leach Rhodes Walker of Manchester. The total sum invested exceeded £5 million. The exterior had not been modified significantly since the building's original construction in the 1970s. In 2010, a net had been fitted around the building to stop tiles from falling and causing injury. Although no-one had ever been harmed by this, the new cladding both removed this hazard and updated the look and feel of the centre.
In October 2013, following the renovation, the centre was re-branded to Runcorn Shopping Centre. In addition to a physical makeover, the new management also began to hold frequent events in the centre's Town Square to make it a focus of community life.
Also in 2013, the surrounding area saw new investment by developer Opus Land North with the construction of a new Lidl, Burger King, garages and a car dealership on the site of the former Vestric House.
A setback occurred in April 2015 when Tesco, one of the centre's anchor tenants, announced it was closing several stores across the UK, including its Runcorn store. Tesco had operated a large supermarket in the shopping centre since the 1970s. The floor-space had been reduced in the early 2000s and the store rebranded as a Tesco Metro.
Despite its many name changes, most Runcorn residents had continued to call it Runcorn Shopping City and in July 2017 the centre reverted to its original name. Its new logo, inspired by the original, was created by John Saunders in 2017.
The centre is still undergoing large-scale redevelopment, including the redistribution of unit space as well as the possible development of new retail space by opening the unused second floor (which will add at least another 500,000 sq ft (46,000 m2) of retail space).
In April 2018, Halton Borough Council unveiled plans for the regeneration of the area surrounding the Shopping City, including the addition of a public square on Second Avenue to form an entrance feature to the centre. It is intended to remove the raised pedestrian walkways into the centre and replace them with ground level road crossings. The plans also envisage the extension of shops adjoining the north and south parts of the centre.
Location and transport
The Shopping City was built as a central focus for the New Town centre, and a civic quarter was built adjoining the centre which includes a library, police station and local government offices. Halton General Hospital is also nearby.
The centre is also complemented by surrounding developments, including large supermarkets, drive through fast food restaurants, and the adjacent Trident Retail Park and its multiplex cinema.
It has a core catchment population of 120,000.
The Shopping City sits alongside the A533, the main route north to Widnes and Liverpool across the Mersey Gateway Bridge. To the south is the nearby M56 motorway to Manchester, Chester and North Wales. Warrington, Northwich and Frodsham are a short drive away.
The centre has four multi-storey car parks containing 2,200 spaces. Car parking is free and each car park features disabled and infant & parent spots close to the entrances on the shopping level.
Two major railway stations are nearby, both of which are a short commute away.
Runcorn Shopping City is serviced by two bus stations which provide both local and regional services across Runcorn, Widnes, Warrington, Huyton, Chester and Liverpool. Both stations are integrated with the Shopping City with indoor waiting areas.
Shopping City is the main bus interchange for the town and its unique system of dedicated busways.
Shops and services
Runcorn Shopping City comprises over 60 stores, including banks, eateries, clothing shops, hardware, electronics and department stores, supermarkets and more. In addition to big-name stores like Argos, The Range, Specsavers, Wilko and Boots, the centre hosts many smaller retailers and has introduced an incubator for local start up outlets in 'The Box'.
The centre is also complemented by surrounding developments, including large supermarkets, drive through fast food restaurants, and the adjacent Trident Retail Park and its multiplex cinema. Local amenities like the main library and Council 'Direct Link' centres are also attached to the Shopping City in the civic quarter.
- "Commercial Opportunities". Runcorn Shopping City. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
- Smith, Mark (24 September 2009), "Business as usual", Runcorn Weekly News, Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales, p. 1
- Ling, Arthur (1967), Runcorn New Town Master Plan (PDF), Runcorn Development Corporation, retrieved 25 February 2018
- Couch, Chris; Fowles, Steven (2006). "Britain: Runcorn — A Tale of Two Centres". Built Environment. 32 (1): 88–102. JSTOR 23289488.
- RUDI (1995), Town Centre - Runcorn New Town - RUDI, Resource for Urban Development International, archived from the original on 18 October 2014, retrieved 26 February 2018
- RUDI (1995), Shopping - Runcorn New Town - RUDI, Resource for Urban Development International, archived from the original on 18 October 2014, retrieved 26 February 2018
- Fordgate Midland Properties Ltd v Grosvenor Investment Management Ltd, Court of Appeal - Civil Division, October 21, 1996,  EWCA Civ 842
- Clay, Oliver (21 September 2015), "Runcorn Shopping Centre owned by offshore company", Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News
- Agenda item - 11/00044/ful - Proposed demolition of East Lane House and Territorial Army Centre and the development of a retail store (use Class A1), car parking, servicing a petrol filling station and associated landscaping at East Lane, Runcorn, Halton Borough Council, retrieved 26 February 2018
- The company which holds the fourth car park is called Meadow Walk Limited and is registered to the same Guernsey PO Box as Runcorn One Ltd
- Jordan, Barbara (19 June 2017), "Shopping City revived as centre celebrates 45th birthday", Runcorn and Widnes World, Newsquest, retrieved 1 July 2017
- Saunders, John, Shopping City Rebranding, retrieved 24 February 2018
- "News & Events - Halton Healthy New Town". Halton Healthy New Town. Retrieved 3 May 2018.