Britain’s high streets have struggled in recent years, with Covid-19 lockdowns adding to the pain initiated by the rise of ecommerce.
But while the pandemic has intensified the rise of online shopping, it has also brought about other potentially beneficial trends, particularly in secondary shopping areas. Local authorities must now capitalise on these to create vibrant local economies.
Government has set the tone for greater planning flexibility with Use Class E, allowing for a reimagining of the services that could be offered. Coordination between landlords, tenants and councils is needed to ensure each unit is maximised to boost footfall and spending.
Creating strong high streets requires strategic management. Council leaders ought to plan for diverse districts catering to a variety of retail, leisure, residential, community and event uses. Unlike prime commercial areas or shopping centres, secondary high streets will likely count dozens of landlords, often owning just one unit, which makes it even more important for councils to take the lead.
Co-ordinating different occupiers and their landlords can help to meet local requirements, but fostering collaboration is also necessary. Not only will getting them around a table reduce dispute risks and develop new, more resilient commercial models (such as turnover-rent agreements), but councils can also actively encourage occupiers to experiment with offering new services/concessions and help landlords embrace the retail evolution for their own benefit.
Through proactive management and partnership between these key stakeholders, we can capitalise on the trends around sustainability, experiential retail, localism and flexible working, rejuvenating secondary high streets that neighbour residential areas. This could not only help create dynamic local economies, but also boost local consumption and rejuvenate parts of the country on the government’s levelling-up agenda.
UK high streets are full of potential, but we are at a crossroads. Local authorities must actively seize their chance to remould our high streets for the future.
James Webb is real estate partner at UK law firm TLT