From the outset, The Oracle shopping centre in Reading has had two large department stores, which were House of Fraser and Debenhams when it opened in 1999.
At the time, these ‘anchor stores’ attracted millions of shoppers each year.
But now Hammerson, the operators of the shopping centre, are set to divide both stores up into three units each.
Hammerson’s planning agents Turley have argued that the desire for department stores is declining and that the proposed changes allow greater flexibility to attract businesses.
This reasoning was accepted at a meeting of Reading Borough Council’s planning applications committee last night (Wednesday, September 6).
Councillor Jan Gavin (Labour, Caversham) said: “I welcome this. It seems to me only yesterday when The Oracle opened, it was actually 24 years ago, and it is extraordinary how in those 24 years our shopping habits and the way we purchase and select items has changed radically.
“Throughout the country, these large shopping centres seem now not to be able to sustain these large anchor stores.
“I can remember the excitement of The Oracle opening and these two anchor stores at either end, Debenhams at one end, and House of Fraser at the other, which was the posh one.
“I think it [the plan] reflects how we must move with the changing habits of consumers, because if we don’t, then we’re going to be left with dead space in a regional shopping centre.
“Do you remember that people travelled to Reading to use The Oracle from a large distance and that we need to make sure that we keep it a vibrant and successful shopping centre and activity centre.”
Ultimately, the committee voted unanimously to approve the plan.
The decision removed a condition dating back to the planning approval for The Oracle in 1997, which preserved the two largest units in the west and east of the centre for department store use only.
Both department stores will be divided into three units, creating a total of six units.
Dedicated department store space will now be limited to a minimum of 1,000 sqm of floor space.
Cllr Gavin was glad that the new space would not be made into “tiny little rabbit hutch type” units.
The plan was approved with various conditions attached, which state that Hammerson must submit detailed plans to the council’s planning department relating to the retention of car parking spaces and public access to the centre and the surrounding area.
The decision comes as The House of Fraser will be closing in October, following the closure of Next Beauty & Home on Saturday, August 12.
Two restaurants in the former Next unit, Franco Manca and The Real Greek were spotted closed today (Thursday, September 7).