High streets can no longer rely on shops – Grimsey review


Bricks-and-mortar retailing can no longer be the anchor for high streets, an influential independent review has revealed.

The review, conducted by a team led by retail expert Bill Grimsey, said high streets must instead become community hubs that include housing, offices and some shops.

Grimsey said it was time to accept that there was already too much retail space in the UK and town centres needed to be “repopulated and re-fashioned” with libraries and public spaces at the heart of each community.

The review, the second led by Grimsey since 2013, comes amid a wave of closures and restructurings from major high street names and an ongoing shift to online shopping.

In the past few weeks alone, House of Fraser has earmarked 31 of its 59 stores for closure in its controversial CVA, while Poundworld’s administration places all of its 300-plus store estate at risk.

It adds to the store closures from the collapse of Toys R Us UK and Maplin earlier this year, as well as hundreds more at stake in CVAs from New Look, Mothercare, Carpetright and The Original Factory Shop.

The review argues that greater devolution and stronger local leadership is needed to give high streets a renewed sense of purpose and identity.

Among the 25 recommendations are calls to replace business rates, create a Town Centre Commission to develop a 20-year strategy for local high streets, and accelerate digital transformation in smaller towns.

Other recommendations include the appointment of “high-quality” designers to celebrate the historic character and local identity of town centres, 30 minutes’ free parking in high streets with no paid extension option, improved street lighting, and free public wifi.

Grimsey said there had been some progress since his original 2013 review “but not nearly enough”.

“The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations and CVAs for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown,” he said.

“Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history, which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21st century.

“Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks that are convenient and with free parking.

“They must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there – being interesting and engaging and altogether a compelling and great experience.”

Local Government Association economy spokesman Martin Tett said: “Many councils throughout the country are already leading the way in transforming the future potential of their town centres in the face of unprecedented changes in shopping habits and the retail landscape.

“We are pleased that the report backs our calls for councils to have more powers and flexibility, particularly in relation to planning, to help shape and deliver vibrant town centres.

“The LGA stands ready to work with the government, councils and other stakeholders to help secure a prosperous long-term future for our high streets and town and city centres.”

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  1. What a complete load of nonsense by those with their heads in the cloud. Who is going to pay for the regeneration, libraries, top designers, and what are the towns supposed to regenerate into? Look at the bigger picture and the solution is more obvious.

    Everyone agrees we have too much retail or at least too much retail cost in the light of current consumer spending and pressure on margins. It does have to be said that the latter is something of a home goal, with the majors following each other down the black-hole of earlier and ever larger Sale offers, in order to score a cheap short-term win. We now have in-town, out of town, and online retail and something has to go.

    While we have too much retail, we don’t have enough houses, or so we are being told. So why not, in view of the fact they are already on developed land, their great locations, size and ease of changing into residential, don’t Government demand out-of-town retail sites are sold for residential development. With long-term pressure on rent reductions and inevitable empty units, it might be surprising just how many landlords may be very keen to take up this option, as opposed to it being imposed upon them. The displaced retailers will once again find sites in-town, all-be-it not as large, but as time has moved on from when out-of-town retail started, use a mix of in-store and online to fulfil their customer’s needs at significantly lower cost.

    Surely others must be thinking along these lines?

    • You are correct it is the expensive upward only rents that make individual small retail shops impossible to manage. With the high rent comes high business rates. We need smaller interesting retailers that bring individuality to a town yes the butcher,baker and kandel stick maker. We need to go back in time. Big business is no longer required.

  2. Is this Grimsey the same one who nearly drove Wicks and Iceland into Administration? This bloke is NOT an expert.

  3. Robin Dartington
    Large retailers won’t want to return from cheap out-of-town retail sites until rents, business rates and in-town car parking charges are eased. But council’s are so strapped for cash they want to squeeze what they can from pubic land they hold, and private landowners in town centres want to keep income as long as they can.
    So Grimsey’s analysis is sound – town centres will evolve into social spaces, where it is still possible to feel a sense of community – in those towns with sufficient heritage for there to be a community.
    How financed? Partly by residential development, partly through council tax when people wake up to the need for public investment in their town centre or else the town becomes little more than a dormitory. And hopefully some philanthropy – in my town, many public buildings were once upon a time gifted to the town to start a library, museum, corn exchange, when local dignitaries wanted to do something for their community.
    Not a clear picture – some towns will manage it, others will become soulless.


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