A few weeks back Retail Week, as part of its ‘Retail Reimagined’ series, asked what the ‘perfect’ high street of the future looks like.
In the comprehensive article, including interviews with the country’s retail experts and the brains behind some of the most successful town centre turnarounds, we recognised a lot of the thoughts and themes that dominate the conversations we’re having internally and with our customers right now.
It’s hugely positive that the academics, the property experts, the town planners and the futurists who are influencing how our town and city centres are being developed are on the same page as the traders and landlords who are operating in those environments day-to-day.
To stand a chance of reversing the decline we’ve seen in most retail destinations, we need to agree on how to improve.
Dan Anderson, director at placemaking and destination development consultancy Fourth Street, told Retail Week: “A high street should be a reflection of the community it’s in. The clone town problem is the high street problem – they’re one and the same thing.”
After more than 20 years working with traders, landlords and managers of every kind of location, we know that what suits one venue may not have the same impact on visitors to a different location. Now more than ever, a location’s uniqueness should influence the retail and leisure offering there.
Retail Week also highlighted the shift away from a focus on static or fixed retail in favour of a more flexible approach. The venues we work with are rethinking and redesigning layouts to create more flexible space with many creating dedicated pop-up space.
This kind of creative thinking works for the trader – who can scale up and down, test the feasibility of a site for a short period before committing – and crucially for the shopper too. An everchanging roster of traders keeps things fresh, new and seasonal.
While many centres rework their existing space to accommodate changing shopping habits, it’s those locations subject to major regeneration and investment that have the best opportunity to benefit. Drawing on how consumer habits have changed in the last decade or more allows planners to create sites from scratch that are truly fit for purpose.
Late last year, Bradford Council announced it had appointed Cushman & Wakefield to help draw up plans for a sustainable new community neighbourhood in the city centre, including the site of the Oastler indoor market and shopping centre. At the time, Bradford Councillor and executive member for regeneration, planning and transport, Alex Ross-Shaw, said its plans would “take Bradford’s city centre to the next level with sustainable and healthy living combined with high quality public space that will help shape Bradford for future generations.”
Bradford’s plans look impressive. Considering how different kinds of retail – high street, centres, markets; permanent and temporary – can work together alongside residential and commercial elements from the outset means the result is going to resonate with different kinds of visitor, during the day and evening. The term ‘mixed-use’ has taken on a whole new level of importance.
In 2010, Altrincham in Greater Manchester was one of England’s emptiest high streets. The opening of the Trafford Centre, seven miles away, had taken its toll and 30% of its shops stood empty. Eight years later it was named Best High Street 2018 in the Great British High Street Awards. As Retail Week’s piece highlighted, their focus on mixed-use regeneration and the involvement of the local community have been key to its transformation.
Altrincham’s Neighbourhood Plan Forum, which comprises local businesses and community groups, has focused on turning the space above retail units into residential to make the ground floor commercial space more affordable for traders.
Its regenerated market hall now draws crowds from all corners of Greater Manchester and further afield and community-led events, like street food festivals, have proved hugely popular too.
The fact is, there isn’t one perfect high street. What’s perfect for one town, is different to the next. What’s more, the perfect high street this month will change next month. The weather, the political backdrop, how much people have in their pockets to spend – the factors influencing the success of our town and city centres are many. And the best way to cope with that everchanging landscape, built-in flexibility and a finger constantly on the pulse.