Participants raised concerns about the balance in the local retail offer between residents, workers/commuters and tourists. A significant number of both local residents and to a lesser extent workers believed that the retail offer was insufficient for their needs.
Retail was seen by many to be the principal reflection of a neighbourhood’s character and the homogenisation of retail as marking a loss of that character. Therefore a key concern was the perceived decline in numbers of small independent shops and the fragility of Lower Marsh in particular.
Some considered that this decline was inevitable, with rising rents exacerbated by recent public realm improvements. Similar changes had been observed on The Cut following improvements in 2009. Others said that Lower Marsh would continue to be characterised by independents and that small floor plates which are unattractive to chains would preclude the changes in lease-holdings seen in The Cut.
Lower Marsh Market was seen to be important for the success of the area, and some reservations were expressed about its future, citing declining numbers of traders and custom, and an apparent shift towards hot food rather than groceries, clothes and kitchenware which was seen as serving worker rather resident demand.
The Lower Marsh economy could be supported with sensitive development and a complementary offer in Leake Street or in Station undercrofts, creating a retail circuit with the South Bank and featuring a shopping destination focusing on independent designer-makers and street food. Brixton Village, Camden Market and the Brooklyn Night Bazaar were mentioned as successful examples of this model.
With retail provision set to increase as mixed-use developments are constructed, a number of local residents expressed a hope that the neighbourhood plan could influence the occupation of the new units, many of which remained empty for long periods of time post construction. Given that fit-out costs often prevented start-up and temporary pop-up uses, requiring developers to prepare units for such uses could be a planning condition. In conjunction with the developer and supported by a rolling CIL fund, a local trust could help to run units or manage the temporary letting of limited units to local entrepreneurs.
Due to the likelihood of a substantial amount of new retail coming forward, and fears of further ‘blandification’, Blackfriars Road was seen as a key location to bring forward policies for diverse retail, in partnership with the Bankside Neighbourhood Forum. The ‘curated’ use of Network Rail arches to create clusters of businesses around particular sectors was an opportunity being explored elsewhere.
The proliferation of Tesco Metro and Sainsbury’s Local stores was seen as a negative development for the area, particularly when they were in close proximity. Such stores were seen as reducing choice for the consumer, diminishing the character of the area and responding to the needs of workers rather than residents. Conversely, many local residents stated a desire for a large supermarket in the area, potentially on the Waterloo International Terminal site.
There were also comments about the demographic shift in the neighbourhood fuelled by rising property prices and the resulting retail aimed at the incoming wealthier residential population or the tourist market. Some local residents reported with concern launderettes and other shops serving local needs being replaced with bars and coffee chains.
There was a division between those who wanted to see more chain stores or anchor retail across the neighbourhood and those who wanted less. Some people felt that the character of the area could be found in the range of restaurants on offer, reflecting the area’s cultural diversity. For others, such establishments were a sign of gentrification and the loss of Waterloo’s working class character. Launderettes, pubs, cafes and betting shops were seen by different sections of the community as vital social hubs that should be protected.
Diversity of retail provision was seen as important to ensure that diverse communities were adequately served.
i) Retail trust made up of local people to:
a) Act as link between local entrepreneurs and those testing business ideas and developers/landlords with empty units
b) Defray rolling CIL fund as rent subsidy, business development grant funding for small independents
c) Own and manage (e.g.) community launderette as social enterprise and community hub
ii) Planning conditions compelling developers to:
- ensure basic fit out of shop units for pop-ups, entrepreneurs and micro businesses
- Provide a certain number of small/affordable units suitable for above uses