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Fears for the high street are ‘exaggerated’

Words: Laura Edgar
High Steet Shutterstock

Fears about the health of the high street have been ‘exaggerated’. Its death is a ‘myth’ and retail is key to the regeneration of failing urban centres.

A report by planning consultancy Turley says that £178 billion of in-store non-food transactions were completed in 2017, which equates to an average £488 million a day.

This is more than the value of sales for non-food retail, which was £45 billion, or an average of £123 million a day.

Making Sense of Mixed-Use Town Centres notes that figures for in-store spending are projected to increase to £227 billion by 2026 – showing that retail still has a valuable role to play in the high street of the future. Turley say this is a conservative estimate based on the assumption that new residential developments don’t exceed the height of existing buildings.

The report states that “careful understanding” of places is needed so tailored solutions can be provided to ensure that regeneration is successful. Guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is described as being “unclear”, with recommendations set out to how make mixed-use centres work.

Above everything, local people should be at the heart of town and city centre futures, with opportunities for engagement built in from the start.

After that, an important first step, says the report, is ensuring that data is gathered on retail and leisure catchments – as well as considering housing need assessments, social infrastructure assessments and business use assessments. It advises that understanding demand from various institutions, such as universities and hospitals, is key to planning a sustainable mix of developments, and well as reviews of land ownership and public sector assets. Consideration should also be given to heritage and the quality of public realm.

The report explains that principles for successful mixed-use town centres should be quickly established to respond to rapid changes in the market. They should include a redefinition of the retail core and the identification of areas where mixed-use development can be realised without compromising existing commercial uses.

Paul Keywood, one of the report’s co-authors and director in Turley’s planning team, said: “Our urban centres offer a delicate balance of uses and services that rely on each other to drive footfall and survive economically. We believe that for these centres to continue to succeed and serve the needs of their communities they need to embrace a mixed-use future where the balance of uses shifts from what we have traditionally seen.

“A whole-place but bespoke approach to each centre, that considers what is needed to make these places attractive and useful for communities and businesses, is essential."

Making Sense of Mixed-Use Town Centres can be found here on the Turley website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock