The last few years have taken their toll on Britain’s high streets. The pandemic led many to become accustomed to online shopping, and with the current economic crisis, customers are prioritising cutting costs above hitting the shops. However, retail is reacting.

Richard Saunders

Richard Saunders

In Bristol, and many other major cities, regeneration plans are under way that will transform the high street and create more attractive mixed-use city centres.

In 2020, Bristol took its first steps towards modernising the city’s traditional high street by adopting the City Centre Framework. This produced a step-by-step strategy for the centre’s future development. This year the city aims to improve on these plans by adopting the Bristol City Centre Development and Delivery Plan.

At the heart of these transformations is the desire for the city to shift priorities from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’. Customers no longer want to walk along clone high streets with a line-up of the same old brand names. To truly ensure that footfall increases, retail in a city must encompass a broader range of occupiers, including independents that are more suited to Bristol’s modern aesthetic. Bristol’s personality already appears in pockets around the city – Wapping Wharf’s CARGO or Finzel’s Reach are great examples of what the retail sector can offer local communities.

There are a number of major developments already in the works in Bristol, which will transform the city. All eyes are on the Future Galleries shopping centre and Callowhill Court, which will lead the way by creating new destinations the new breed of retailer is crying out for, which will also rebrand the city’s retail core. Both are set for a redevelopment, which will not only modernise retail, but also increase the number of student and residential units in the area. Creating mixed-use developments like these will no doubt bring fresh life to the city centre and boost footfall.

Currently, developments or ownerships are appraised on their individual merits, but with a slew of inward investment set to take hold, but there could be a more effective way of delivering change. While working towards the goal of a modern, attractive and efficient city centre, an integrated approach will help to yield the best results. This reimagined city centre will not only be more attractive to consumers, but boost the economy of the community as a whole.

We need to look at the bigger picture, and it is up to consumers as well as Bristol City Council to consider how the city can be improved – maybe now is the time for an integrated and sustainable transport system. Think about all the space that could be put to good use, which is currently allotted to car parks.

Since the dawn of online shopping, bricks and mortar has been under threat. Once again, the industry will need to adapt in order to remain attractive. For cities like Bristol, there are still many opportunities to innovate and breathe life into city centres that are stuck in time. Locals and city leaders must support developments that are in the works to ensure that plans to transform high streets are enacted.

Richard Saunders is retail director at Hartnell Taylor Cook