City centres must break reliance on retail, says thinktank
TOO many city centres are overdependent on retail and must swap shops for offices, housing and public space to transform their economic prospects, according to a thinktank report.
Centre for Cities says towns and cities must re-think their high streets if they are to succeed in the 21st century following a string of a headlines about struggling household names such as House of Fraser, New Look and Maplin.
The report examines the composition of commercial space in UK cities and the implications this has for their economies.
It warns that struggling high streets have too many shops and too little demand for commercial space from other businesses and uses such as housing and leisure.
But it does say Birmingham and Coventry fall below the national average for the share of vacant city centre retail units in 2017/18, at 13 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. The report said that in struggling city centres, retail accounts for twice as much space as offices.
In successful city centres, there is three times more office space than retail.
The city in England and Wales with highest share of vacant retail lots in 2017/18 is Newport at 28 per cent and the lowest are Cambridge, Brighton and Exeter, all at eight per cent.
Centre for Cities said struggling city centres should reduce their reliance on retail and focus on creating a better environment for other firms, especially those in exporting such as legal services and marketing.
It also recommended re-purposing surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland which would create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in.
Chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Each day seems to bring a new crisis for the high street but the answer is not to double down on the declining retail sector.
“Instead, we need to re-imagine struggling city centres as places where lots of different businesses can locate and create jobs – and where lots of people want to go to for a variety of reasons.
“This means reducing the reliance on shops and focusing on creating a more attractive environment for a wider range of firms.
“We also need to make our high streets more open and appealing spaces for people to spend time or live in by improving public realm and transport links and potentially introducing more housing.
“Repurposing high streets for other uses can be a difficult and costly process and some cities will need investment from government to support that transition.
“But it will be crucial in transforming the fortunes of our city centres, and the prospects of people living or working in them.”
> What will happen to House of Fraser’s building? Surplus retail stock should be repurposed according to Centre for Cities