The entrepreneur behind the re-development of the Packhorse Centre says Kirklees Council has missed a trick with its £250 million Huddersfield Blueprint regeneration.
Zahid Iqbal, of Z&F Properties, reckons the council has much of its vision right but what they have pretty much ignored is what Huddersfield town centre is still very much about – retail.
Mr Iqbal said: “Retail is still the beating heart of the town and whatever else you have in the town centre people still come here to browse and shop.
“Out-of-town retail parks have taken their toll on town centres but people would still rather come to a town centre to shop. Retail parks are soulless, they have no atmosphere.”
Mr Iqbal, who has also built the thriving and over-subscribed Asian shopping destination Bradford Plaza in Thornbury, said retail remained vital to Huddersfield town centre.
And he warned that with the town’s last department store, House of Fraser, set to leave the Kingsgate Centre – to be replaced by a cinema – the appeal and lure of Kingsgate, and Huddersfield as a whole, would be impacted.
“The main retail street in Huddersfield is King Street and we cannot afford for Kingsgate to fail. We need to help Kingsgate bring more retailers in,” said Mr Iqbal.
“House of Fraser is a big store, an anchor tenant, and people don’t realise what a blow that will be for Huddersfield when it goes.”
Mr Iqbal said what the council should have done to mitigate the loss of House of Fraser would have been to incentivise Primark to move down from New Street to King Street.
“Kirklees Council owns the Piazza so instead of demolishing it all, they should leave the WH Smith store and what was BHS and move Primark in there.
“The council would have to offer financial incentives to get Primark in – it might cost them £5 million – but they already own the Piazza so they can do that. Primark would be their tenants so it’s an investment that the council itself would benefit from. They would be the landlords receiving an income.
“Primark is the holy grail of retailing. There’s no-one better than them at the moment. It’s a crowd-puller store and the Huddersfield one is probably one of the smallest they have. I’m told they have a very good deal.
“When we lost Marks & Spencer and had that unit empty we really felt an impact. When B&M came in it was fantastic. People may be a bit snobby about the likes of B&M but they bring footfall.”
Mr Iqbal bought the Packhorse Centre in June and the 50-year-old centre is now undergoing a major revamp with new shopfronts going in.
He’s slashed rents and works closely with his tenants to ensure their business is a success. There were 24 empty units when he bought the centre. Now there are just 13.
Mr Iqbal revealed that he is choosy about his tenants and resisted all offers from mobile phone shops for one of the outside units.
They also proactively target the names or kinds of businesses they want and are talking to traders in the Queensgate Market, who face an uncertain future.
The former Peters store in the Packhorse Centre remains vacant by design. Mr Iqbal is looking for an anchor discounter, maybe a toy store, to come in but he’s happy to wait until the small shops are filled.
There will be a food court upstairs and all the units have been taken. It’s going to be early in 2022 before that opens.
There will also be a children’s play area which Mr Iqbal says will be a major draw for families. This wasn’t in his original budget but is seen as key and there is a “potential” grant of £80,000 from Kirklees Council towards the cost.
“It’s not been approved yet but the council has been really helpful,” he said.
Though there have been delays getting hold of materials, such as glass for the shopfronts, and timescales have slipped back, Mr Iqbal believes they are still on track to achieve their original target of having the centre fully let by June 25 2022, the first anniversary of the purchase.