The RICS recently published a draft report addressing the factors behind the decline of the high street for retailers and discussing what the future may hold for town centres.
The report paints a picture of the current high street being one that Vicky Pollard would feel at home at; rows of betting shops, fast food outlets and discount retailers.
While initiatives, such as National Markets Fortnight, (arising from the Portas review) have had an impact, they are seen as merely slowing down the decline in town centre shopping.
Several factors are identified as having contributed to the decline.
The economy is of course a prominent feature and the report highlights that with an ageing population and consumer spending funded by household debt unlikely to return to its pre-recession levels, the high street will continue to suffer.
The rise in e-commerce and a change in retailers’ behaviour are also important factors. There are fewer larger shops in fewer bigger centres with convenience stores now devoting up to 40% of their space to non-conventional sales. Previously a retailer needed 200 units to obtain national coverage. Now they aim at 50-60 units resulting in smaller units in town centres being abandoned.
Moreover local authorities continue to promote new development over regenerating the high street. This has been exasperated in the recession by the reduction in public sector spending for those departments responsible for organising and managing it.
So what does the future hold? The report notes that generic solutions have been trialled, for example more parking and better marketing, but given these tactics are commonplace they cannot work on every high street.
A variety of strategies ranging from a high street differentiating itself from shopping centres by drawing on historical buildings to landlords offering lower rents is suggested. None of these suggestions are seen as real solutions.
Despite the abundance of tea and coffee shops in town centres, the report does not attempt to read the high street’s tea leaves. However one of the more definitive conclusions of the report is that a conversion to residential use will form part of the future for town centres. If the town centre is large enough then it is hoped it will increase footfall and trade in the remaining areas.
For a link to the full draft report, please follow the link https://consultations.rics.org/consult.ti/highstreetsbeyondretail/consultationHome
by Rebecca Nash, Associate