Outlet in Banbridge sees rise in clients from south after Brexit vote

The retail village has had mixed fortunes in its nine years but things look set to improve

The Outlet in Banbridge:  a “mid-premium outlet” which is not in the same market as Kildare Shopping Village in the Republic, but keen to emulate its success

The Outlet in Banbridge: a “mid-premium outlet” which is not in the same market as Kildare Shopping Village in the Republic, but keen to emulate its success

 

Car registrations might not usually be the most reliable of economic indicators but when cars from the Republic start parking in greater numbers in Banbridge, it is a definite signal about where the North’s retail sector is headed post Brexit.

According to the organisations that own the Outlet retail village, it has seen a double-digit jump in visitors from south of the Border in recent months partly inspired, no doubt, by the dramatic decline in the sterling exchange rate with the euro immediately after the vote.

The Outlet, off the main Dublin to Belfast road, is just one of the many retail and tourist-related beneficiaries in the North following the slump in sterling. Latest research from Ulster Bank shows both retail and tourism sectors have enjoyed strong growth – delivering job creation – since the UK’s decision on the EU.

New owners

For Banbridge Outlet, Brexit could not have come at a better time for its new owners, the London investment manager Tristan Capital Partners and Northern Ireland-headquartered Lotus Group.

Tristan and the Lotus paid £40 million for The Outlet, which originally cost £70 million to develop, and another retail park in Co Antrim, Junction One, in April.

It is the first time both retail parks have been under a single ownership and Alastair Coulson, director of asset management with the Lotus Group, believes the Brexit factor could help, rather than hinder, its development plans for both retail parks.

“We’ve been tracking the number of shoppers who have been coming to The Outlet since the Brexit vote – chiefly by number-plate recognition software – and there has been a significant increase in traffic.

“We know people love a bargain and Brexit has presented us with the opportunity to increase our market share at both Banbridge and Antrim. And, in Banbridge, we also have a great opportunity to attract consumers from the Republic simply because of its location.

“I believe the acquisition of both Junction One and The Outlet is a strong vote of confidence in both sites – in total they cover 95 acres of land and they have a completely different offering compared to anywhere else in Northern Ireland,” Coulson said.

The Lotus Group, formerly known as the Murdock Property Group, has been involved at one time or another with the Banbridge retail park since 2001 when it assembled the land that created the site – initially named Bridgewater Park. Over the years, the site has had mixed fortunes and several different owners. In 2011, West Register, the property asset management company owned by Ulster Bank, acquired The Outlet from its former joint owners GML Estates and Land Securities.

Major makeover

According to Coulson, The Outlet, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, and Junction One are set for a major makeover. He says the Lotus Group intends to develop The Outlet as a “mid-premium outlet model” while Junction One which will be a “mid-value convenience and leisure” retail centre.

Although Coulson admits that The Outlet is not going to operate in the same market as Kildare Shopping Village in the Republic, he is keen to emulate Kildare’s success, which includes major job creation in the area.

He believes that both northern retail parks have the potential to generate employment in the Banbridge and Antrim areas and also encourage new investment.

The group is seeking planning permission to redevelop some of the existing units at Banbridge and Coulson says further investment is planned for both retail parks.

Although he is coy about long-term plans for the Banbridge site, he believes there are “lots of possibilities”. Almost a decade ago, when it was first unveiled, there was talk of a hotel along with various other leisure developments. Maybe Lotus will see this as an option as part of its multi-million pound ambitions to make it a “destination location”.

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