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Planned Victoria Square, Belfast: two multi-level covered streets will link to a 35m-diameter glass dome, one of the largest covered spaces in a mixed-use development in Europe

Shopping in Ireland

Published:  01 February, 2004

IN THE LATE 80s, Peter and John Robinson, then known for their refrigerated warehousing and cold storage business, decided to venture into shopping centres by buying, with Stannifer, a centre in Craigavon. The decision, with the benefit of hindsight, was a cracker.

The 300,000 sq ft Rushmere Shopping Centre pulls a weekly footfall of 170,000; it enjoys its position as the premier sub-regional centre in the heart of Northern Ireland; and construction of a 150,000 sq ft extension, to include an 82,000 sq ft Debenhams anchor store, is on schedule for completion in the autumn.

The southern extension, which includes a basement car park, will offer 12 large units and Peter Robinson says eight of them are in legals. “We are looking at fashion-based retail and demand for the right product is tremendous,” he adds. “There is a dearth of mid-sized units, and landlords have to find ways to provide them.”

Rushmere’s 85,000 sq ft retail park is fully let to tenants including Matalan, whose incursion into Northern Ireland is gathering pace. Stannifer/Moyallen have consent for 30,000 sq ft of further infill retail between the shopping centre and retail park, with open A1 consent.

“Craigavon is an area with spending power,” says Robinson, “with virtually 100 per cent employment. And, particularly at Christmas, we have a lot of shoppers from the south.”

Tim Buckley of Stannifer and McConnell Martin are handling the letting.

The phenomenon that is Sprucefield – the ‘retail park with Marks & Spencer’ that has been drawing millions to the outskirts of Lisburn since 1989 – is about to change.

MFI is moving within the M&S-owned, 235,000 sq ft scheme, and its old unit is being sub-divided into two units, with interest high. Boots is understood to be interested in occupying one of the units, although whether it will be allowed to will be up to the planners.

There is also outline consent in place for the development of land adjoining Sprucefield, which would give the scheme a frontage facing Sainsbury’s supermarket.

All of this is occupying the thoughts of centre manager Tim Honeyford as he runs a scheme that draws customers from all over Northern Ireland and from the Republic. “People might even come from County Cork for a special visit to MFI,” he says.

Whelan-managed Sprucefield’s current occupiers are M&S, MFI, JJB Sports, Homebase (with a Laura Ashley concession) and McDonald’s. Part of the attraction is ease of access and parking, with 1,500 cars accommodated.

“It’s the main centre on the Belfast-to-Dublin corridor, it’s adjacent to the M1/A1, and it’s easy to get to from the western parts and the north of the province,” says Honeyford.

The scheme’s success was confirmed at Christmas, when all tenants reported increased sales.