Town centre managers must be allowed to make a loss on attractions to save high streets

David Jones

Organisations like Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Improvement Districts must be allowed to stage events and attractions at a financial loss without fear of public criticism if high streets and town centres are to survive.

That was the view of David Jones, town planner and managing director of Reading- and Cheltenham-based planning consultants Evans Jones at a property roundtable held by Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce in Swindon.

As shops gear up for Christmas, David noted the most successful centres in attracting footfall were private business centres, which invested in attractions like ice rinks and festive markets.

Our complicated relationship with town centres is that we “love them but have no desire to use them,” he said.

The future success of ailing high streets – which were facing a serious decline even before the pandemic – would be “about driving people to you with events and experiences.”

He also said retailers needed to address “archaic opening hours.”

“Why open when everyone else is at work?” he asked.

He said that, for the commercial property industry, the pandemic had thrown up two questions: is the high street dead, and is the office dead?

At the roundtable, held at the Alexandra House Hotel near Wroughton, it was the future of the office that provoked the most discussion.

After 18 months of home- and hybrid working, the general consensus was that most business owners and managers were glad to be back at the office – and most workers had missed human interaction.

Some delegates reported taking new, more modern officer space. Others were adapting existing space for a new way of working, which included new technology to facilitate hybrid working models and reduce the need to travel for meetings.

Many business leaders said their firms were looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint, with customers and workers demanding a greener way of doing business.

Some expressed frustration that their buildings were not energy efficient – and that commercial landlords seemed in now hurry to instal, or permit the installation of, solar panels, electric vehicle charging points, climate control solutions, or more energy-efficient lighting.

“The office market must strive for quality” agreed David.

Image courtesy of Ian Stevenson