The decision by Northern Ireland's Social Development Minister David Hanson MP to opt for William Ewart's Royal Exchange proposal in Belfast's North-East Quarter ahead of Westfield's Castlecourt extension in the North-West Quarter was always going to be controversial.

Dundrum developer Joe O'Reilly is working up plans to redevelop the original Dundrum shopping centre about 0.8km from his new Dundrum Town Centre.

The Outlet at Bridgewater Park, Banbridge is now 52 per cent pre-let a year ahead of its Easter 2007 opening. Olsen, Oasis, Mexx and Nitya have all signed for units at the £70m outlet centre.

Swedish fashion giant H&M is to open its second store in Northern Ireland at the Fairhill Shopping Centre, Ballymena. It has agreed to take a 17,000 sq ft store trading over two levels.

Retailing is Galway, the dominant centre in the west of Ireland, is set for a transformation with three big retail schemes in the pipeline.

Spanish retail giant Inditex has stepped up its presence at the Whitewater Shopping Centre which opened in Newbridge last month.

Treasury Holdings has increased its holdings at Stillorgan in south Dublin, paying E65m for the site of the Stillorgan Bowl Leisureplex, directly opposite the Stillorgan shopping centre where the company has been embroiled in a long-running planning battle.

CUSP and the Kennedy Group have scored a double coup at their Junction One site on Ballymena Road in Antrim. Asda has selected the site, already home to Ireland's biggest outlet mall, for its first new-build project. And Homebase has signed up for a DIY store. The two will anchor the leisure and retail park which is seen as complementary to the outlet mall.

Marks & Spencer has been confirmed as the anchor tenant in the St Laurence Town Centre scheme in Drogheda. The 50,000 sq m development forms an extension of the main shopping area of West Street and will house over 35 retail units with over 450 car spaces.

ING has added Italian fashion accessories brand Mandarina Duck and Italian menswear retailer Basile to the tenant line-up for the 15,487 sq m Ballymac Shopping Outlet in Dundalk. Other recent signings to Antler, Paper Mill and Book Depot mean 40 per cent of the space is now spoken for. The ?60m scheme is scheduled to open in June 2007.

Ikea is known the world over for cheap but stylish furniture. And it is known for the ruthlessness with which it pursues a dominant position in every market it enters. With Ireland firmly in its sights, what impact will Ikea's entry to Dublin and Belfast have on the Irish retail and property markets?

Sean Mulryan, 51, the chairman of Ballymore Properties, was one of the driving forces behind the recently opened Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare. He's one of the biggest property developers in Ireland and Britain and he now also has massive interests in central and eastern Europe. Currently, Ballymore is involved in about 30 projects in Ireland, Britain and central and eastern Europe with an estimated gross development value of E22bn. Mulryan and his family are estimated to be worth E344m, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2006.

Refurbishment of the ILAC centre in the heart of Dublin is well under way, with most of the work due to be completed by November, in time for Christmas shopping.

The Value Retail scheme in Kildare is set for a soft opening in early July, with 50 per cent occupation expected then, increasing to 70 per cent by the end of the year.

Marks & Spencer has had its fair share of ups and downs since its humble beginnings in 1884 as a market stall. Just over 120 years later it has 400 stores throughout the UK, 150 stores worldwide and over 130 franchise businesses operating in 30 countries. Between the north and south, Ireland has 22 of these and the number is growing rapidly.

In March Social Development Minister David Hanson MP made the announcement Belfast's property and retail communities had been waiting for. He said: "Following careful consideration of the proposals for the North East Quarter and the North West Quarter I have selected the North East Quarter as the next area for major retail-led regeneration in the city centre."

Liffey Valley was Ireland's first out-of-town comparison shopping centre anchored by a department store. Jenefer Greenwood, retail strategist at Grosvenor, remembers: "It attracted strong take-up from British retailers looking to take advantage of the Celtic Tiger economy. It satisfied the market without being over-pretentious."

The Junction One outlet mall in Antrim has become the first in Northern Ireland to complete the Wholesale & Retail Training Council's new Shopping Centre of Excellence customer care scheme.

Developers are used to battling to overcome local opposition before they can win planning permission and get on with their schemes. But in Donegal they seem to do things differently.

Castlecourt in Belfast was one of the venues for the inaugural Belfast Fashion Week which showcased collections from the Designers at Debenhams range, as well as the latest looks from Gap, Morgan, NV, Quiz, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Dune and Remus Uomo. There were even vintage World Cup shirts from Burton.

== Antrim ==

Spanish fashion giant Mango is to enter the outlet retailing arena in the UK for the first time, taking an 8,000 sq ft store at Realm's Junction 32 outlet mall at Castleford, West Yorkshire. Last year its rival Zara chose the same site to launch its ex-Z outlet operation. Monsoon and Cadbury are also set to open at the centre, which has seen a £14m refit.

In a leafy suburb south-west of London one of the biggest malls to open this year is quietly taking shape. The 220,500 sq ft Heart of Walton scheme in Walton-on-Thames is on target to open in Autumn 2006.

Earlier this year Shopping Centre teamed up with the UK's leading destination marketing agency for retail, travel and leisure, Fox Kalomaski, to undertake the first ever survey of attitudes within the shopping centre profession.

Duncan Howes

When you visit a brand new shopping centre, have you ever wondered how the vast majority of its tenants seem to pull off the trick of being ready for trade at the moment it first flings its doors wide to a waiting world? Contracts may have been signed, leases agreed and dates set, but given the number of businesses operating in a modern mall, why do so few, relatively speaking, fail to make it to the starting line on time?

I have been informed of the retirement of Eric Williams at the end of March. I am therefore taking this opportunity of thanking Eric through his own creation, Shopping Centre magazine, for his personal friendship to me but more importantly for his support of centre management within the shopping centre industry.

Sam & Maxie's

Sam & Maxie's is the latest addition to the foodservice line up at Stevenage Leisure Park in Hertfordshire. The new concept, opened for three weeks, combines a bar, grill and smokehouse offer, and is the latest, organically grown addition to the portfolio of the restaurant operator, La Tasca.

== The Stratford saga ==

Sweaty Betty

Think of a store name that will have feminine appeal and the moniker Sweaty Betty does not perhaps spring readily to mind. Yet these are the words that greet shoppers frequenting a distinctly aspirational chain of activewear shops aimed solely at women. Simon Hill-Norton, joint founder and co-owner (with his wife Tamara) and the only man in this outfit run "by women for women," says that the name is clever: "It's a very ugly name, verbally, and it's extremely polarising between the sexes. Women get the joke, 90 per cent of men don't. Women do sweat when they exercise and this reflects this." The first store opened in 1998, in Notting Hill.

== Till design do us part ==

Keeping a shopping centre clean is one of the prerequisites of operating a successful mall. If the cleaning company that you use or the cleaners that you employ aren't up to scratch, an interior can quickly become off-putting with a dive in footfall being the almost inevitable consequence.

Overgate

If you're on the east coast of Scotland, Dundee is remarkably easy to reach. More or less midway between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, it is also well connected to towns such as Perth, Arbroath and Stonehaven, making it a good location for those seeking to move goods and services across the country or equally for shoppers seeking a location that is easily reached. For all of these reasons, back in 2000, it became Lend Lease's second UK venture when it opened the doors of a refurbished and vastly-extended Overgate centre.

Metquarter

Liverpool shoppers stepped into the Metquarter, a modestly-sized and luxurious-looking shopping centre, for the first time last month. For developer Milligan, it's been a two-year journey since it bought the site from Bill Davies' Walton Group in 2004.

== ? MAYFLOWER RETAIL PARK, BASILDON ==

So you want to keep your shoppers shopping in the amazing collection of shops that have decided to make your mall their home? Making sure this happens is a matter of ensuring that customers understand your centre's offer and can find their way around. This is pretty straightforward if a shopping centre consists, effectively, of one indoor street, but most locations just aren't like that. Indeed, guiding shoppers around the twists and turns that characterise many modern malls is arguably the single most important thing that management can do to make sure that when visitors finally get inside a scheme, they get round to spending.

The cameras were in Liverpool last month when the BBC's Top Gear crew filmed another of the famous man-against-machine challenges for the next series of the show.

The Plaza shopping centre on London's Oxford Street launched a truly gutsy advertising campaign last month. The centre pioneered what it calls Bellyvision with three models parading round the West End with shopping centre logos emblazoned on their stomachs.

Grosvenor's manager at the Eastgate shopping centre in Inverness, Jackie Cuddy, has been named Business Woman of the Year by the Highland Business Women's Club after just a year in the post.

ROBERT WALDEN, fund surveyor at UNIVERSITIES SUPERANNUATION SCHEME, has resigned after nearly 18 years with the fund during which time he grew the property portfolio from £500m to just over £2bn. He is looking to concentrate on development and regeneration.

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