Ecobuild 2013: Ex-Tesco chief predicts more high street resi

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Town centres will lose retail units to residential, as the recession and growth of the internet continues to reshape the UK’s high streets.

That is according to Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s former chief executive, who was speaking at the Ecobuild conference yesterday.

He said town centres are being “repurposed to bring people back in”, resulting in fewer shop units as internet sales continue to soar and more cafes, meeting places and houses – places people want to gather and live – spring up instead.  

“You can already see that high streets are being reshaped by the recession and rise of the internet; this will continue to be the case,” he said. “There will be plenty of life, but I expect the number of shop units will fall and cafes and houses will take their place.”

Leahy was joined in the session, which focussed on the future of the shop, by CBRE’s head of EMEA and UK research, Dr Neil Blake; Ashley Blake, director of retail portfolio management at Land Securities, and Munish Datta, head of property Plan A at M&S. They called for the government to relax planning restrictions to make it easier to convert surplus retail units into new homes, to rejuvenate high streets.

CBRE’s Blake said: “High streets are changing and we should embrace this fact rather than ignore it. We need planning laws to permit the rationalisation of shopping space to remove the chronic oversupply of empty or below-par retail units.

“There must be an element of creative destruction.”

Blake added that out-of-town shopping centres were surviving over high street shops in part because people do not live in town centres and are therefore competing with others for parking space, for example. If town centres accommodated more residential, that might create livelier, more prosperous high streets.

Watch Sarah Townsend’s interview with Sir Terry Leahy on Propertyweek.com later today.

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