Towns and cities are finding ways to regenerate, says CHRIS RICHARDSON
At times it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the retail sector, what with the rising cost of living, interest rates and inflation higher than we’ve known for a long time and the energy crisis adding to costs, it possibly comes as no surprise that we have seen a significant reduction in stores on our high streets.
In addition to this we have yet to see the full damaging impact of Brexit which could have a medium to long term impact, especially on consumer confidence.
Over the last few decades we have seen a real transformation, or indeed many transformations of the traditional shopping area in the centre of a town, and there is no doubt that a number of factors have driven the situation to a point at which there is wider concern over how and why people use these central locations and how we can encourage more and better use of them, and the properties that exist there.
The reduction of retailers, such as butchers, grocers and independent clothes outlets has been ongoing for a number of years and in many towns we began to see these shops gradually replaced by charity shops, bookmakers and take away food outlets.
In recent years, even the biggest cities have not been immune, with a number of well-known retailers, such as Patisserie Valerie and Debenhams, closing due to trading conditions and the changing way much of the population is choosing to shop.
It’s no secret that high street occupiers did not have their troubles to seek even prior to the current list of issues, with town centre outlets being replaced by units in shopping malls and retails parks. It’s also reasonable to conclude that the increase in online operations, both from established retailers and new comers, and the low cost environment this brings, have played a part in this displacement.
The increase in working for home during Covid has definitely been a big change for urban centres and the recent strikes may also have had an impact, albeit temporarily.
The answers in revitalising town centres must, ultimately, come from partnerships, with businesses, local authorities and government all working together towards a common goal.
Larger projects however, whilst incredibly important, can of course take time to plan, design and implement and the question is, what happens in the meantime?
It’s fair to say that stories about big failures on the high street, especially of those well known national brands, tend to dominate, but in reality it’s not all doom and gloom.
In the last couple of weeks we have seen announcements from two of the UK’s biggest names about their expansion plans and whilst it would be naive to say that the worst is over, we can at least recognise this is positive news.
Starbucks has confirmed that it is opening 100 UK stores this year whilst investing millions in upgrading existing cafes. This comes after reports last year that the company might be looking to sell its British operations.
In addition, closer to home, Aberdein Considine’s long-time client Greggs announced it was planning 150 openings in 2023, with a target to reach over 3,000 UK shops.
Whilst we are delighted to be working with Greggs on the initial tranche of openings in locations across the UK, more importantly it provides real and tangible reasons for optimism as confidence begins to return.
Furthermore, our client ROX, the luxury jeweller, has just opened a store in Battersea Power Station and we have begun working with Italian cosmetics firm Kiko Milano on its growth plans.
Of course, these examples are not the full answer to the UK’s high street and retail challenges but potentially we could be seeing the green shoots of recovery.
Despite the tough economic conditions, town and city centres will, as they have always done, adapt and regenerate.
Whether it’s a new restaurant or café popping up, or the repurposing of buildings for housing, it all adds to maintain the sense of vibrancy that is essential for any high street and every stakeholder has a part to play in making sure we create an enduring and successful legacy for the future.
Chris Richardson is head of commercial real estate (England and Wales) at Aberdein Considine