Health of high streets not yet critical

Historic high streets could learn new strategies from Britain’s success stories

Health of high streets not yet critical

There’s no arguing that our historic high streets are in rather dire straits. Consumers’ movements toward online and mobile commerce has gradually left our physical outlets somewhat in decline. However it’s not all doom and gloom. Not only are trends like pop-up shops helping to get our feet pounding the streets again but it seems Blighty has plenty of natural resources to help retail get up and at ‘em.

Research conducted on behalf of English Heritage by professional services firm Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners has revealed that whilst there is some cause for concern, perhaps things aren’t as bad as we might perceive. Referring to data published on the department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) website, The Changing Face of the High Street: Decline and Renewal cites annual retail sales of around £330bn – the third largest in the world after the US and Japan – and the fact that the UK’s 450,000 shops still account for more than a third of all consumer spending, compared to just 9% for internet sales.

However, it is clear that our high streets are at a transitional stage and it’s important to know what is driving success in our town centres. Identifying a series of different places that are bucking current trends, the report outlines some tactics that have led to very concrete success in changing the consumer’s relationship to the high street.

Supported by a range of case studies, these strategies include elements such as Princesshay, Exeter’s creation of a new central retail destination alongside the historic town centre or entrepreneur-led regeneration as seen in Norfolk’s Holt. Packed full of examples where clever strategies have turned round the fortunes of beleaguered towns and cities, the report clearly demonstrates that the current climate presents as much an opportunity for innovation as it does a threat to our economic health.

Baroness Andrews, chair of English Heritage, remarked: “At a time when people are increasingly looking for more to their shopping trips, these success stories show how investing in historic buildings and careful and imaginative use of street patterns in our historic towns and cities creates successful ‘destinations’, places which attract people because they make shopping a much more pleasant and enjoyable experience.”

For those wanting to brush up on their town-planning strategies or just eager to gain a few ideas, the report can be viewed here in its entirety. Regardless, one thing is clear: we certainly haven’t seen the last of the high street yet. 

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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