Urbanisation of Outlets, by Peter Gamble

18 Nov 2016

Urbanisation of Outlets, by Peter Gamble

Urban outlet centres have been with us for some time in Europe. Metzingen and our own centre at Brennero form the heart of their two small towns. Successful outlets like Wolfsburg, Roermond, Swindon, Gun Wharf Quays and Gloucester have regenerated former industrial and dockland areas at the edge of their respective city centres. Bicester is now designated as being within the town centre and so could be argued to be an urban outlet.


There is now a growing trend towards urban outlets driven by:

  • the statutory planning challenges of green field sites
  • development opportunities and mainstream retail over capacity in attractive urban centres
  • the gathering pace of mixed use urban regeneration – versus purely retail led development
  • a renewed appetite across the generations for attractive urban environments & authenticity
  • together with the particular and growing impact of urban millennials


Leading operators continue to seek and develop at the edge of urban centres, creating ever closer relationships with historic hearts. McArthur Glen’s new development at Remscheid regenerates an industrial site close to the city centre building on the success of Roermond by forging an even stronger link with the heart of the city.

There is an irony behind many of the successful European outlets on green field sites; they seek to recreate the character of historic urban centres, because this is the kind of environment that their customers are looking for.

So far, though, outlets have been welcome but self contained agents of urban regeneration. The exciting recent development is the increasing interest in outlet as a driver of regeneration of mixed use developments in the heart of cities. Centres like London Designer Outlet and The Lowry play their part alongside varying proportions of urban residential, leisure, and commercial uses to create attractive urban destinations.


How far could a trend towards greater integration go? Two recent examples offer a glimpse of the future in very different ways:

  • Assembly Row, Boston in the US rebuilds a part of the city on the riverfront, regenerating a former industrial site. It is a comprehensively planned piece of urban regeneration, vertically integrated with residential and commercial uses, set in a high quality landscaped public realm including a new riverfront park. An attractive new city district drawing a new generation to a vision of urban living.
  • Bad Munstereifel is an ambitious piece of incremental regeneration; bringing a picturesque, but declining, town centre back to life. This historic northern German town is the real thing; with the streets, squares and water’s edge that respond to our deep seated sense of place. The way that the City Outlet weaves into the fabric of the town revitalizes neighbouring locally owned businesses; the line between town and outlet is rather attractively blurred.


Outlets have become a recognized force in retailing over the last ten years. The really exciting prospect is that they could now also be a key part of a wave of urban regeneration in the future.