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Could this new initiative save Britain’s high streets?


A proposal to revive shrinking high streets is being launched today following the release of data that shows footfall in the UK’s town centres is continually declining.

According to The Times Fragmented Ownership, a group of property experts and investors, argues that town centres need “investment zones” run by a single body that would be able to offer a package, rather than a disparate collection of shops.

In a report, it cites London’s Marylebone High Street, which has thrived because it has one owner providing “coherent leadership”. The report adds that initiatives in Melton Mowbray, Weston-Super-Mare and Dartford have proved that “taking a more structured approach could bring about fundamental change”.

The report , carried out by Peter Brett Associates with Bond Dickinson and Citicentric, signifies the latest attempt to try and save Britain’s high streets including a high-profile campaign led by retail veteran Mary Portas. Many high streets are claimed to lack proper “asset management” because of fragmented ownership, where multiple landlords and cash short local authorities have been unable to devise broad plans. It argues that town zones, in which a “critical mass” of shops and offices could be “pooled”, could “unlock much-needed investment for local authorities and communities”, reported The Times.

The plan coincides with figures from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard, which demonstrate that the number of visitors to high streets fell by 4% in December, the steepest fall in over a year and far deeper than the 1.8 % drop in December 2014.

“Shopper footfall shrivelled once again last month,” said BRC boss Helen Dickinson. “December was the ninth consecutive month in which shopper footfall declined, with high streets in particular, but also shopping malls, continuing to fare poorly.”

She said that an already difficult trading environment would become tougher this year as retailers faced higher wage bills and changing business rates.

Liz Peace, Chairwoman of the Fragmented Ownership group, added that one of the obstacles for town centres was an “inability to change”. She said that the report recommended pooling high street properties to allow assets to be “managed and curated”. Asset management could include adapting properties to meet changing demands, introducing new housing or even concentrating food and drink outlets into one area, as in shopping centres.

“Just about everybody accepts that town centres currently focused on an outmoded retail offering need substantial structural change,” cited Peace. “This will not be achieved by the superficial and largely cosmetic measures that have so far been applied.

“This new and more fundamental approach, using proper asset management techniques, offers us the best, and maybe the only, hope of making a lasting and beneficial change.”

The report also recommends that the Treasury and the Department of Communities and Local Government should develop a package of “special concessions”, similar to enterprise or housing zones, that could be applied to town centre investment zones. It says that this would give a “real focus” for investors wanting to support the rejuvenation of failing or under-performing town centres.

Peace is the former chief exec of the British Property Federation and is leading the initiative with backing from the BPF, the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Greater London Authority and the Association of Town Management.

Published on Monday 18 January by Veebs Sabharwal

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