Jon Emery, the man behind Hammerson’s redevelopment of the Birmingham Bullring, is repeating the trick in Bristol and Leicester. He tells Lucy Handley why the era of the indoor out-of-town shopping centre is over and why he doesn’t enjoy spending time at Bluewater

Jon Emery is the UK managing director of developer Hammerson, though some people refer to him as “Mr Bullring”. Having led Birmingham’s famous £330m development, Emery is now immersed in other pioneering town centre schemes, two of which are set to open next year: Cabot Circus in Bristol, a £245m, 92,000m2 joint venture with Land Securities, and the £210m, 60,000m2 Highcross in Leicester, which is being developed with Hermes. He’s known for his willingness to embrace quality architecture, and for eye-catching developments that reinvent what shopping centres are all about. So we decided to find out what he thinks the future holds…

What will the shopping centres of the future look like?

There’s no single answer. Each city needs a slightly different solution, not just aesthetically but also because the competition is different. We’re being a lot more experimental in how we put schemes together hotels appear in almost every one of our schemes, cinemas appear too, and catering content is now more than 10%.

I think moving from an indoor to an outdoor environment is quite significant. We’re trying to take the best of indoor centres - security, weather protection, all the hygiene factors you need but remove their surburban nature and connect them into the city to make it more likely consumers that will stay longer. Spending all day in Bluewater is something I sort of struggle with as an enjoyable experience, even with its vast array of shops. Spending all day in a city like Liverpool or Birmingham or Manchester, on the other hand, has got much more going for it.

How important is architecture to shopping centres?

I think it’s fundamental. A building that shows off your city is like a magnet, and with mixed-use schemes coming in, a single design solution is no longer tenable.

We like working with architects who have an intelligence beyond the bow ties and the black polo necks. Some of the practices we are using are very small and the risk is that they’re going to struggle with the amount of work, so in some cases we put them together with other practices.

What are the architectural trends in retail?

I think we’ll see a range of clusters being created through different street patterns, so there will be an area for high street shops, one for local shops and so on. We might say: “We could refurbish that little street there and that could be our local shops, and these listed buildings here could be our premium brands.”

we like working with architects who have an intelligence beyond the black polo necks …

There’ll also be more vertical separation of buildings so we’ll have a building that has residential above and shops below, but architecturally wrapped with the same finish. The scale of the buildings is obviously getting bigger with more levels and greater density. And I think we’ll see a narrowing of streets as well everything is getting taller and closer together.

Can shopping centres be truly sustainable?

That’s a good question can anywhere be truly sustainable? We’ve looked at all our developments to see what we can do. At Leicester we took out all the residential electric heating and put in a central biomass dual-fuel boiler. My recurring comment was that I didn’t want Hammerson to be responsible for building the last dinosaurs. To me, it was no excuse to say: “Well, we designed it seven years ago, so we can’t do anything about it now.” The builder was very co-operative, changing the plasterboard and blockwork to have higher recycled content.

We’re targeting BREEAM “excellent” for all of our schemes. It’s fundamental and it’s incredible how quickly it’s become normal thinking already.

Any regrets?

I would be very happy to take my three-year-old son and point at all the buildings that daddy’s been involved in. I’m proud of all of them. When we did the Bullring, I thought it would have been nice to get some more catering in the scheme. I think it missed that a little bit, and shortly afterwards I thought it would have been nice to put some residential on top of it as well.

What have you learned from your less successful developments?

I’ve learned that there are easier ways of making money! There needs to be a very clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve. There are so many things along the way that will dilute it, whether it’s the construction process, the quantity surveying or the retail leasing process. There are a lot of stumbling blocks, which will bring you back to solutions that won’t stand the test of time. We all know shopping centres that are just very dull.

Retail is all about fashion and the moment that’s why the construction process needs to respond to change very rapidly. If the shape of the jeans has changed, the environment that retailers want to occupy will change as well.