Multiplex cinemas pose threat to town centres

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The Independent Online

Town centre high streets face a new threat, having been badly damaged by out-of-town shopping centres: this time from out-of-town leisure parks.

The growth of the so-called Multi-Leisure Parks (MLPs) – which typically contain a multi-screen cinema, a bowling alley and half a dozen restaurants, with extensive free parking – threatens to take business from town centres at night just as the superstores have taken it from them during the day, new research suggests. There are nearly 170 of these sites in Britain, with another 35 scheduled by the end of 2002, says Dr Phil Hubbard of the University of Loughborough.

Additionally, he told the conference yesterday, the scale of such sites is increasing. Star City outside Birmingham, for example, which offers a 36-screen cinema, a dozen restaurants and several shops, poses a challenge to city-centre entertainment complexes. Research by Dr Hubbard in Leicester indicated that almost as many people were going for a night out in the two MLPs outside the city as were using the city centre, with about 95 per cent of them going by car.

"The new out-of-town leisure parks are becoming a major challenge to town centres," Dr Hubbard said. "Their growth is mirroring the movement of shopping out of town." Planning permission tended to be more easily available for them than for shopping centres, he said.

Their attraction seemed to be that they presented a secure and predictable environment, as opposed to perceptions of the town centre at night.The leisure parks were seen as family-orientated. Free parking was another attraction.

Yet towns and cities were aware of the challenge and were already responding, Dr Hubbard said. "Their great fear is that out-of-town leisure is going to mean an absence of people in the streets at night," he said. "But towns and cities are identifying the fact that an increasing amount of income is generated by the night-time economy, perhaps as much as 15 to 20 per cent of their revenue, and they realise they might be missing out on a big slice of the cake, so increasingly they are investing in it. They are fostering a café culture, a pubs and clubs culture, and even the idea of the 24-hour city."