In HRH Retail’s forthcoming Summer bulletin, partner Adrian Harmer highlights the healthy demand for convenience stores as an integral part of new neighbourhood schemes.

Amidst all the gloomy stories about the retail market, one area bucking the trend is the convenience store sector. New neighbourhood shopping facilities are enjoying a renaissance, providing a fertile hunting ground for the big supermarket chains.

Fortunately for HRH Retail, as retained agents for Sainsbury’s in the Northern Home Counties, East Anglia and south London (inside the M25), we are well-positioned to exploit this growing sub-sector.

The convenience store market has matured in recent years so there are now fewer gaps in coverage than in 1995, when we started acting for Sainsbury’s. We are constantly on the lookout for good quality sites and Sainsbury’s is still keen to take as many stores as it can find. But limited availability of suitable sites has inevitably reduced annual acquisitions compared with the heady days of old.

However, the wave of large new housing developments under way across the UK is bringing fresh opportunities in the shape of local and neighbourhood shopping. Under massive pressure from central government, every local authority is feverishly working at its local plan to identify areas for new housing, resulting in major allocations of land for thousands of new homes, all requiring local facilities.

Depending on the size of the housing estate, the local centre can range from a single convenience store to far larger parades, normally with a food anchor, a range of smaller shops, schools, nursery, pub, doctors, dentist and other community and sporting facilities.

We have secured dozens of sites for Sainsbury’s in these new developments. Among recent successes are openings at Beulieu Park, Chelmsford; Brooklands, Milton Keynes; Kings Reach, Biggleswade; Thede Way, Leighton Buzzard and Catford Station and Kidbrooke Village in south-east London.

In addition, stores secured on an agreement for lease and under construction include Berryfields in Aylesbury, Village Centre in Upper Heyford and Battersea Exchange and Twickenham Station in south-west London.

All these stores benefit from a ready and sizeable catchment in areas of growth, often with good road connections and/or near transport hubs. They fulfil a strong community need and reflect a growing desire for mixed-use developments as a sustainable blueprint for future town and city living.

They also provide an attractive alternative to developing larger supermarkets, where the discounters are doing much of the running and many major players now find they are sitting on a development pipeline that is no longer viable to build out. There are, of course, exceptions and we have recently been successful in securing for Sainsbury’s a 20,000 sq ft supermarket in Olney, Bucks, which will open later this year.