Last September saw the opening of the 120,773 sq m (1.3m sq ft) Trafford Centre and, while it expects to exceed its annual target of 30 million visitors, there are a number of units still available.
The Retail Group undertook a survey last November that criticised the centre for its lack of independent retailers and poor accessibility. The report concluded that local centres had been less badly hit by the centre's opening than was originally feared – a view shared by the centre's managers, who believed they would take a small amount of business from several places.
While it was always felt that Chester would be largely unaffected by the Trafford Centre, it seems more likely to suffer from the relatively modest Broughton Park on Deeside.
Located about five miles west of the city, this is due to open in the spring. The 27,870 sq m (300,000 sq ft) scheme has an impressive line-up of tenants, including Tesco, Woolworths, Next, Burtons and Sears. It will attract shoppers from Wales with its free parking and easy access.
Meanwhile, Cheshire Oaks, Europe's largest purpose-built outlet village, goes from strength to strength with the opening of its third phase. This brings its size to 25,084 sq m (270,000 sq ft), with more than 120 stores, including Austin Reed, Next, Gap and Benetton. The final phase is likely to open in 2000. An adjacent leisure scheme is under construction and virtually 100% pre-let. Practical completion is scheduled for late this year.
The industrial and warehousing sectors continue to give mixed signals. The strong pound has had an effect on local textile manufacturers Umbro and Baird: both are closing their Ellesmere Port facilities. British Steel in Shotton, and Octel in Ellesmere Port have cut their workforces, and Kimberly Clark has closed its Deeside Mill.
However, the biggest disappointment was the partial closure of Optical Fibres on Deeside, which occurred only months after the company completed an ambitious expansion programme. This was directly caused by the economic collapse in south-east Asia.
With the exception of these isolated cases, the market has proved generally very strong.
For instance, Universities Superannuation Scheme's (USS's) 62,340 sq m (671,050 sq ft) Deeside Industrial Park East was 93% let by mid-December – more than a dozen new tenants moved in during 1998. This is particularly satisfying for USS because, when it acquired the estate some four years ago, the vacancy rate was 45%.
It's the same story in Wrexham, where Easter Capital Investment has also had a resounding success with its Wrexham Industrial Estate, acquired two years ago from the Welsh Development Agency. The vacancy rates here have dropped dramatically, too, and there are very few units available.
Developer Easter Capital Investment is also in the process of constructing two new industrial units: one of 2,322 sq m (25,000 sq ft) and another of 4,645 sq m (50,000 sq ft) on the Deeside Industrial Park. The development, known as Aquarius, is due for completion in the spring.
The Royal Mail is investing heavily in the Cheshire area as well. Its processing centre in Chester, totalling 12,077 sq m (130,000 sq ft), is completed and the site is due to open in the spring.
Warrington has had further success, with many developers pressing ahead with speculative schemes, such as the Beacons and Cinnamon Park in Birchwood Science Park, and Pisces II at Gemini.
Office take-up figures are reported to have reached a high point, and the lack of available space has resulted in speculative development.
Easter Capital Investment has acquired a 5.3ha (13 acre) site adjacent to Ikea. Construction of the first phase of 2,787 sq m (30,000 sq ft) starts this month.
The lack of available space in Warrington has increased the focus on the availability of land and buildings within Runcorn. Grant assistance and a good supply of labour, coupled with lower rents and cheaper land, have resulted in new developments.
Business Post is building a northern distribution centre on a 3.3ha (8.3 acre) site at Manor Park. And funds for the redevelopment of the Runcorn Docklands have been secured from the European Regional Development Fund.
In addition, Daresbury Park, a 91.1ha (225 acre) site with direct access off junction 11 of the M56, is well under way. The infrastructure works are complete and it is being marketed as a high-quality international office park for corporate occupiers.
The most recent large occupier to choose Runcorn is Origin, which has taken around 3,623 sq m (39,000 sq ft) at Daresbury Court in Manor Park.
Peter Johnston, Director, Legat Owen