City cen­tres must break reliance on re­tail, says think­tank

Birmingham Post - - COMMERCIAL PROPERTY -

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

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