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Analysing the demand for rail tyravel to out of town shopping centres

Anzir Boodoo



This study attempts to provide an analysis of the pattern of rail access to out of town shopping centres. Out of centre shopping has grown dramatically in the last 15 years, marked most significantly by the opening of several large shopping complexes designed to offer a complete shopping experience under one roof. Environmental concerns have accompanied the car-dominated nature of access to these centres, which has been partly addressed by improving public transport access. Many of these centres have rail access either through their own station or a link bus to a nearby railhead. However, little is known about the pattern of rail access. The study approaches the analysis of rail access through the formulation of models to describe the pattern of rail access to five out of town centres.

Out of town shopping began in the USA from out of town supermarkets and “strip malls” of shops along a main road. Over time, this form developed into the fully enclosed shopping centre. In the UK, this began to be developed from the 1970s onwards, with the Brent Cross Centre in London and new centres for several of the New Towns. However, it was not until the opening of MetroCentre in 1986 that its development took on the form recognised today. In tandem with the construction of these new regional centres, with sizes around 100,000m2 and two or more large department stores, smaller subregional centres began to be built serving a smaller catchment, often in suburban locations in a major city. Other forms of out of town shopping include retail parks and designer outlet centres, but these are not included in the study due to their more specialised character.

Regional centres in the UK have tended to be developed on former industrial land, which has led to many having railway lines nearby. Often the potential has been exploited for no other reason than its presence, however, following rail privatisation, Railtrack and the Train Operating Companies serving an area have an obligation to develop the network for commercial benefit as well as the regulatory requirements.

Government papers and planning policy guidance have often slated out of town retail development for being too car dominated and for its negative impacts on surrounding town centres. However, rising car ownership and mobility have been leading to the decline of smaller town centres in favour of larger ones for a very long time. However, it is now government policy that developments be accessible by a range of transport modes following the Integrated Transport White Paper of 1998 and the subsequent revision of many other documents. Shopping is the second most important generator of trips after journeys to work, and with 50% of all shopping trips made by car and only 11% by public transport there is clearly a need for shopping centre managers and transport operators to consider ways in which to develop public transport access to retail developments.

The study involved a postal sector based model, which was based around a survey of the postcodes of passengers using rail or rail link buses at six shopping centres, two subregional (Perry Barr One Stop in Birmingham and Crystal Peaks in Sheffield), and four regional (Bluewater in Kent, Meadowhall in Sheffield, MetroCentre in Gateshead and the Trafford Centre in Manchester), though Bluewater’s results during engineering work were deemed to be too adversely affected by engineering works for it to be reasonably included in the analysis.

The postcode survey was subject to disaggregate modelling analysis, combined with the locations of each centre through a GIS layer and data sets with a limited set of 1991 Census variables by postal sector and the locations of UK rail stations. Each sector was mapped onto its Census data and an origin rail station. The distance and rail service between the origin station and the shopping centre were then calculated for use in the model estimation. Estimation involved regression analysis with a log-log model in order to produce constant elasticities of the number of rail passengers with respect to the variables in question. This was carried out for all centres (with either all the data or only origins within 50km of the centre visited), each centre individually and all sub-regional and all regional centres together.