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Property group defies squeeze on spending

Property giant Land Securities yesterday said large retailers were still looking for space at its shopping centres, despite the consumer spending squeeze.

The group, whose portfolio includes 50% stakes in Cabot Circus in Bristol and the St David's centre in Cardiff, said interest in its locations in London and on the edge of towns has picked up.

It plans to start seven projects in the south east and Midlands, worth £275 million in total, to take advantage of this shortage and help meet increased demand from food and fashion retailers.

The new sites will be primarily for supermarkets, Primark and extensions to existing retail parks and will mean in total an extra one million square feet of new space, with 1,000 extra jobs created.

Bespoke projects will include a new Primark store in the Westwood Cross mall in Kent, extensions to existing stores for Sainsbury's and Tesco in Wandsworth and Taplow respectively and a new Morrisons store in Crawley.

Extensions to a shopping centre in Derby and a new store in Birmingham are also said to be in the pipeline.

The group, which recently sold an advertising slot on the prestigious Piccadilly Lights panel to Hyundai for double the previous rent, also reported a drop in the number of empty shops in the last three months.

As a proportion of the retail portfolio, voids fell to 4.1% from 4.5%, though the number of units in administration rose due to the collapse of Focus DIY and problems at Habitat.

The group's London-focused commercial and office business also saw less empty space. Total new lettings in the quarter were £9.5 million with a further £5.4 million in solicitors' hands.