Cabot Circus 10 years on - has it delivered for Bristol?

James Durie
Chief Executive - Bristol Chamber & Initiative | Business West
25th September 2018

Working in a strong partnership with Bristol City Council the Bristol Chamber & Initiative was instrumental in the development of Cabot Circus - a £0.5bn investment in the centre of the city - because as city partners we recognised the importance of having a bigger and better shopping offer in the centre of Bristol.

In assessing its impact as it reaches its 10th birthday and whether it has been successful or not; just first ask yourself this important question: if we didn’t have Cabot Circus, what would Bristol's city centre shopping quarter be like today? 

Over the course of the last decade I have certainly witnessed how Cabot Circus has proven an enduringly attractive retail and leisure destination, and this is despite really tough trading conditions and a shifting retail environment. Having first opened its doors shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers at the start of the global financial crisis, the focus did shift away from a high-end luxury approach in retail, towards providing an overall experience for both residents and visitors. 

The digital shift in general has and continues to drive a huge amount of change for retail in terms of consumer behaviour, and this is already and will continue to have an impact on our high streets and therefore Cabot Circus. This is often described as the emergence of multi-channel shopping and a changing demand for clicks vs bricks. With only a few exceptions those retailers who merge these streams well are tending to be the ones holding their own. And the way retailers market themselves has increasingly moved more to digital platforms. And this seems only set to continue.

Technology has also led to the emergence of transactional changes through chip and pin and then contactless. Customers are no longer willing to wait to pay. I know Cabot Circus has been working hard to encompass and work with all of these changes above, and you can see that their retail mix remains strong even though the line-up has changed slightly over the years. And the data shows that it attracts a lot of young people and from quite a wide catchment.

Recent high-profile casualties on the high street clearly tell us that a big change has been taking place which is driving new approaches and innovation. Cabot Circus cannot afford to stand still and I'm pleased they are working with us, Bristol City Council and other partners on how we actively revitalise Bristol city centre.

A significant pattern of change has been the rise of leisure which has seen exponential growth, whilst pure retail spend remains still. This has seen for instance a huge growth in the types and number of food outlets. Food is something Cabot Circus had a significant amount of right from the start and together with leisure its set to grow at Cabot and for the rest of Broadmead, as shown by the recently announced plans for The Galleries.

In terms of what lies in store for Cabot Circus and the surrounding area, my hope is that we can develop a more distinctive retail offer – one that is able to focus much more on showcasing great local products and independents – alongside planning for a much more mixed development that reflects the fact that more people are wanting to moving back to live in the city centre. We have a growing and ageing population and need to look at things like mixed generation living but also ensure the overall experience of visiting and working or living in the city centre is a good experience including how they travel.

Whilst we now have in place two BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) operating in our city centre there are significant challenges such as the ones from the recent growth of rough sleeping and begging which need to be tackled.

With a much bigger focus on placemaking, entertainment and enhanced city centre management I think there can be lots of reasons beyond just retail within Cabot Circus, Callowhill Court and across Bristol's Shopping Quarter and central area to visit and enjoy a great experience. A major part of this city's attractiveness is its quality of life and its rich and diverse offer and as a business community we know developments such as Cabot Circus are major anchor points we need to help support.

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