Much has been written about the struggles of the British high street in recent years, with many commentators jumping at the opportunity to write it off, primarily forecasting its death knell as a result of the growth of e-commerce and the on-line shop.
What isn’t in doubt is that the retail industry is experiencing unprecedented difficulties. These challenges don’t mean the end of the high street by any means, but they do highlight that it is essential for all stakeholders in the health of our town centres to recognise the threat and to adapt in order to continue to attract people.
The way to do this is to offer something that can’t be replicated online. More enlightened developers and local authorities are achieving this by adjusting the planning emphasis, allowing a greater mix of retail, leisure, food & beverage outlets (F&B), office and residential and creating an “experience” of visiting a town centre. An increase in F &B operators is one way of achieving this, they attract people and nationally now account for almost 15% of total unit take-up in the 12 months to June 2017. By relaxing the number of F&B outlets traditionally allowed on the high street it has helped address the decline in footfall which has a positive knock on effect for other businesses on the high street too. Couple this with securing key anchor tenants and the opportunity to use retail and employment land for much needed housing and the look and feel of our high streets could be saved. Planners and local authorities should see town centres as places for the community to live, meet, socialise, work and shop.
In Burnley we’ve all of the above used to good effect, an increase in F&B outlets, securing of big name retailers and town centre premises being used for housing as well as purpose built new accommodation.
By changing our perception of what a successful town centre looks like, and refocusing on flexibility and “placemaking” we have the opportunity to create vibrant hubs, which cater for our diverse commercial, leisure and social needs.