Metal rods protrude from half-demolished floors like roots, there’s no roof on what was once BHS and panels of 1970s honeycomb ceiling are stacked like giant Lego pieces.
Nottingham’s Broadmarsh shopping centre is a monument to a retail heyday now past. Final demolition will begin this month after works to reinvent the building, which opened in 1975, were abandoned when its owner, the retail property group Intu, went bust last year and the lease was taken on by the local council.
Intu had already begun to rebuild the centre to introduce leisure services such as restaurants, a cinema, a bowling alley and indoor golf alongside the shops, but when the council asked locals what they wanted the message was clear.
“We had 3,000 responses and I haven’t read one that said can you create a shopping centre,” says local council leader David Mellen. “[Intu’s plan] could have worked but it was a risk. That plan came from 2014 and people were already asking if that model could work.”
A dive in the value of retail property has forced owners to reconsider their options and provided an opportunity for local councils to buy up sites in order to reinvent blighted town centres.
Work has already begun to take down the Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London, Stockton’s Castlegate shopping centre will be demolished next year as part of plans to create an urban park, the Riverside centre in Shrewsbury is coming down under a plan for new housing, offices, cafes and a promenade, while both the Chilterns centre in High Wycombe and Nicholsons in Maidenhead are to be razed to build new homes.
Centres in Huddersfield, Newbury and Edinburgh are among those set to be partially redeveloped.
Locals in Nottingham say they are not sad to see the local carbuncle go with many keen to see more green space in the city centre, a place to gather and make the city more cohesive. With its small entrances and high faceless walls, Broadmarsh acted as an ugly barrier of retail between the south of the city, where the railway and bus station lie, and the main shopping and entertainment district.
“It was so horrible with weird shops, all dark and dank,” says Jack, 30, in town to go shopping with his girlfriend. “It was a great cut through from the station, though.”
“I’m not really sad about its disappearance,” says Andrew Jones, 40. “It would be good to have an alternative to the main square, an open area to hang out.”
Mellen says were it not for Intu’s collapse, the council would not have taken on the project, but he points out that starting from a crisis has delivered an opportunity for Nottingham and many other councils.
“It has given us a second chance to look at places around the country that have done something different with city centres and make something beautiful and attractive.”
Following the public consultation, Nottingham has set up a steering committee, with a mix of local councillors and experts including Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project and Greg Nugent, a former director of the London 2012 Olympics committee, to decide on what to do with the Broadmarsh site.
However, there are many practical limits on their plans.
Broadmarsh may have been ugly and failing, but it delivered both rent and business rates payments for the council. Whatever replaces it will have to provide some form of income to help refill council coffers already hit by government cuts.
Even demolition costs money. At present, approval has been given for knocking down only about a third of Broadmarsh, funded by £12m from local enterprise partnership D2N2 and the government’s transforming cities fund. The second phase of demolition is more complex as the site includes part of a district heating system and other services linked to neighbouring shops. There are also historic caves and even the remnants of former streets which can be glimpsed behind blank walls beneath and beside the centre.
The expense of such considerations can leave local authorities in the hands of developers with plans limited by what someone is willing to pay for.
Securing planning permission, demolishing and rebuilding a site can take years, with little or no income while the work goes on.
Mellen says the council will need partners to reinvent Broadmarsh but will have to put its own money in as well. “It would be easy to fill that space with student accommodation but that is not necessarily the right thing for the city. We want to get it right,” he says.