How do we save Britain's High Street?

Posted on: October 18, 2018

Never before has the pace of change on Britain’s high streets and city centres been so apparent. The shift in consumer habits has fundamentally altered the way we interact with our surroundings. Those who are mobile enabled, time poor, brand savvy and relatively cash rich can now fulfil their needs with the touch of a button. How then can high streets compete?

No two places are the same so solutions are complex and a homogenised approach is no longer the answer. As consumers have more and more choice, the creation, shaping and procurement of place become essential. In reality, it is less about a masterplan and more about a unified vision of how a place needs to change in order to compete and, most importantly, to succeed in the future.

In the era of the ‘experiential consumer’, it is a necessity to provide something both unique and social to entice people back to the high street. Retail alone is no longer enough of an attraction as people don't have to go to the high street to shop. Instead there needs to be a healthy mix of uses to offer something that you can’t find elsewhere or online. Restaurants, bars, leisure concepts, an increase in office space, more residential units, even schools, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries will help to revitalise a tired town centre.

Accessibility is also crucial. Poor public transport provisions coupled with over-priced car parking is an immediate turn off for visitors. The future is ticketless and barrier free. Mobile-enabled customers should be able to utilise technology in the same way we can in big cities such as London, paying for trains, buses and even products and car parks with your phone. What’s more, revenues that local councils receive from car parking, after costs, need to be reinvested in subsequent improvements.

To do this there needs to be a concerted commitment from a range of stakeholders – from residents to Government – to ensure that change is achievable, with initiatives such as greater empowerment for occupier and property owners through Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) helping to implement change.

However, this change is not limited to the place in question. It is also important to take a look at the more macro issues impacting the high street, such as the Landlord and Tenant Act, business rates, taxation of online retailers and the appropriate use of CVAs. A lot of the legislation in place is outdated and acts as a disincentive to invest in these locations. Ultimately, we need a more entrepreneurial approach that will require more flexibility from Government, Councils and other traditional institutions.

With the verdicts of the updated Grimsey Review, alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee review of high streets, we need to think seriously about how we secure a future for our high streets and inject life back into the heart of our communities especially in this age of new technology.

[Source: Savills]