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Retail mix vital for Cambridge commercial property’s health and wealth

Cambridge is on the right track when it comes to its retail property offering but the city needs to be mindful of the need to retain a healthy mix of outlets to serve the many who live and work here and not just visiting tourists.

That is the view of commercial property agency Barker Storey Matthews in commenting on recent research by Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH), an international retail real estate consultancy, who names Cambridge as ‘the UK’s best place to shop’.

HDH’s Vitality Index research takes a number of property factors in to account in examining the retail balance of any commercial centre.  In welcoming the positive view of Cambridge’s retail offering in the latest index, Barker Storey Matthews cautions against focusing too much on the ‘shiny lifestyle shops’ to the neglect of appreciating the mix of retail property stock that makes for a modern, functioning city.

Laurence Gercke, Associate Director, Barker Storey Matthews – who is the property agency’s retail specialist in Cambridge – believes that the city’s retail property stock offers a healthy menu of options in quite neatly defined locations.  It is a mix which serves the purposes of property investors, retailers and indigenous and visiting shoppers alike.

He explains, “It is important to consider retail health in the context of a modern, functioning city which meets the needs of all its inhabitants and visitors.

“There’s the temptation in any Cambridge retail property profile to focus on the premium property and shops on the Grand Arcade, Market Hill, Trinity and Bridge Street catchment areas.  With these being the areas where the estimated 5.4 million annual tourists congregate – given the value of sterling – it’s where prices may be high but yields are commensurate in the 3.8 to 5.0 per cent net initial yield (NIY) range.

“Yet across Christ’s Pieces to the Fitzroy and Burleigh Street areas, as well as the Beehive Centre and Newmarket Road retail park, there is good retail property business to be done too in having shops which, arguably, serve the regular and vital needs of those of us who live and work here.  Otherwise why would owners Legal & General Property be investing £18.5 million on the redevelopment of the Grafton Centre?

“To commercial property investors, Barker Storey Matthews would always make the case in appreciating the value of neighbourhood districts in positioning retail.

“These are where the independents still make their mark – like they do in Mill Road.  Admittedly, the independents are not as prevalent as some would like but times change and we have our own shopping habits to blame.

“While it may be the national chains and franchises who blaze the trail in the new Cambridge neighbourhood districts of Eddington and CB1 – and that which will surely emerge around Cambridge North station – it will be interesting to see the direction in which retail property travels here as the residential elements mature.”