Ask me what the high street will look like in 20 or 30 years and I have to say it’s difficult to answer, the only certainty is that there will be change.
We need to ask questions to assess the modern high street, for example are current opening hours still fit for purpose? In a world where most people work, is it sustainable for retail opening hours to be aligned with normal working hours? A cultural change is required to encourage people to use town centres for more than bars and restaurants during the evening hours.
The high street can’t just be about retail, that’s for certain. If you get the other bits right, retail will follow.
High streets will get smaller and shrink into a central core and they will have to operate in a similar way to how outlet villages and large retail centres like Westfield, Bicester, Swindon Designer Outlet or Gloucester Quays operate.
These retail outlets are a great example, there is an overarching single landowner in place to make important strategic and holistic decisions for the good of the retail offering as a whole. This can include facilitating and, in many instances funding, festivals, activities and specialist bespoke events. These events encourage visitors to use other facilities whilst they’re there and the result is then increased ‘spend’ in the retail outlets.
What a high street doesn’t have is that overarching organisation to take the lead and think of the bigger picture. A BID or the LEP or even the local authority can, it doesn’t matter who but someone needs to provide that leadership and vision in order to properly plan ahead to give people a reason to go to the high street and to keep them coming back.
Landlords have had it too good for too long, if they don’t start to think imaginatively, then they will lose out. There needs to be a multi-functional approach and that will require some imagination both from the owners and the local authorities too.
Authorities have to realise, and some are, that there is value to having activity above ground floor retail premises and that planning policies should be changed accordingly. In many respects, it doesn’t matter what that activity is – offices, flats, student accommodation, education establishments, entertainment venues – they all have a part to play in creating a vibrant town where people want to live, work, shop and play. When people live and work in an area, they wander round it too and that creates vibrancy and people like being in interesting and busy places.
The high street operation is an old system and it needs to adapt and evolve to meet the modern day demands and working practices. The growth of online shopping is unlikely to slow and therefore, retailers must embrace the online world and provide a seamless and complementary offering of both physical and online retailing.
More and more ‘experience shopping’ outlets will exist where you touch and feel but purchase elsewhere. It’s what Apple do now, you go into their shop, you look, touch and feel the product but you don’t necessarily buy in store. Other retailers have followed that theme, Tesla and Dyson for example. The actual purchase is made online, but both parts are vital. You don’t do one without the other. The crucial thing is that when you’re doing that first part, you want somewhere to eat, drink and be entertained. All that needs to be part of the condensed central core that will be the modern high street.
Retail is now just a piece of the jigsaw. A vital one, but one that won’t be complete until you add the other pieces and think about the bigger picture.
Evans Jones are Commercial Property Experts offering a range of services including Planning Consultancy, Project Managing, Building Surveying and Disabled Access Consultancy. For more information, please visit our website or contact David Jones, Managing Director & Head of Planning at Evans Jones.