Environmental Feature — 08 September 2018

by Hannah Milne, Director of Regional portfolio at The Crown Estate

If asked to consider the colour most associated with retail parks, I’m sure that grey would be on most people’s lists, with ‘green’ being a less obvious suggestion.

Large format stores, convenient locations  and accessible free car parking; retail parks have many positive attributes, but often without much space dedicated to greenery, nature or the surrounding landscape.

Yet, across the UK, people are being encouraged to reconnect with their natural environment and are seeking opportunities to do so. Just last month, Sir David Attenborough  called on the nation to get out for the butterfly count, citing the mental health and wellbeing benefits of reconnecting with nature as a reason to do so. It’s a trend that transcends age groups, with Millennials prioritising time away from their screens and spending twice as much as boomers on self-care.

For us, as a responsible owner and manager of retail destinations, we recognise that we have to respond to these priority shifts. After all, the retail destinations of today are about so much more than just shopping – they are increasingly mixed-use with a multitude of reasons to visit and an experience you simply cannot get online. I believe that the key to creating a truly successful and resilient destination is being able to tap into these broader global trends, taking a comprehensive view of the experience on offer for visitors to our places and providing compelling reasons to visit which combine shopping, dining, leisure and entertainment in equal measure.

This view was a driving force when we came to launch Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire. With over 40 retail and restaurant brands, alongside 200-acres of Nene Wetlands nature reserve and set beside stunning lakes, Rushden Lakes offers a shopping experience combined with nature and the great outdoors. But, we haven’t gone it alone, we recognise the power of partnership in delivering great experience and so this internationally important site for wildlife is managed in partnership with The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

With Rushden Lakes having celebrated its first birthday just last month, which we worked in partnership with LXB PLC to deliver, we see that shopping is just one aspect of the visitor experience, with outdoor discovery the real attraction. We’ve welcomed 4.5 million people in the last 12 months, far surpassing our expectations for this new destination. What’s clear is that Rushden Lakes is celebrated equally; both for the nature trails and canoeing on offer as well as for the great line-up of retail and lakeside eateries and cafés. For our brands, there is a clear benefit too.  It’s this complementary mix which provides reasons to visit again and again, which lies at the heart of Rushden Lakes’ popularity – both with local shoppers as well as people who travel from far further afield.

We are now applying the lessons we have learnt from Rushden Lakes and looking at how we can incorporate more opportunities to connect with nature across the portfolio.

But, we also know that being ‘green’ is much more than just about getting outdoors. Across our portfolio – from the materials we use and the infrastructure we provide, right through to our customer interaction – we are implementing a broad range of environmentally beneficial initiatives.

In the past 12 months we have also strengthened our relationships with our strategic partners, including The Wildlife Trusts. Together we have put nature at the heart of a number of our destinations; establishing bee friendly borders at Crowngate Shopping Centre in Worcester for example, and crafting the first biodiversity graffiti wall at The Gate in the heart of Newcastle city centre. We have also worked in partnership with key retailers, such as Marks and Spencer, where we collaborated over an innovative study exploring opportunities to enhance the wellbeing of employees, as part of the UKGBC Healthy Retail Lab. This year, across the portfolio, we will continue to build on our achievements, focusing on promoting sustainable travel and responding to future travel trends. We will continue to identify opportunities to reduce our energy use by up to ten per cent and water use by five percent against our 2012 baseline, as well as hitting an overall 50 per cent recycling rate. By 2030, our aspirations are to be climate resilient, drastically reduce our carbon footprint, creating healthy environments and valuable green spaces, and closing the waste loop fully.

When I first began my career in retail, commercial space was viewed almost entirely in terms of the sq ft we could deliver. Now, by combining retail spaces with engaging experiences and sustainable spaces, we are delivering positive commercial, social and environment outcomes. For me, that’s a measure of real success, and also a reason to keep raising the bar of our ambitions.

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