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News & opinion

5 MAR 2018

Debate: what is the future of the high street?

With news of Toys R Us and Maplin going into administration we want to start the debate, what is the future of the high street? And what role do surveyors play?

We spoke to Cheetham & Mortimer, specialist retail property experts with 40 years’ experience, based in Manchester City Centre to get their opinion on the future of the high street.

They act for both Landlords and Tenants, in a variety of locations including high streets, out-of-town retail parks and shopping centres.

A rapid change in how we shop

The high street is currently undergoing dynamic change, this is in response to:

  • the rise of regional shopping centres in the late-1980s-1990s and out-of-town retail parks
  • increased use of the Internet and online shopping: many of the new wave of retailers have no physical stores, such as Boohoo and ASOS
  • established high street retailers are relying more heavily on internet sales to maintain market share, thus physical stores have a diminishing role.

Evolution not expiry

As a result, there is over-supply of high street retail units, causing an increase in vacancy rates. However, these changes should be seen as evolution, rather than decline and can be addressed in the following ways:

  • Property Week has recently reported on the rebirth of the high street. Certain town centres have been rejuvenated by independent retailers and a focus on culture and leisure. These uses make visiting the high street and town centres an ‘experience’.
  • a good example is Altrincham, which is emerging as a leisure destination. It was described in 2010 as a ‘ghost town’, however vacancy rates have since dropped from over 30% to 7.9% in Dec. 2017 (national average 12.2%), with a 5% increase in footfall. This is primarily due to the success of the refurbishment of Altrincham Market; a focus on local food and drink and investment in public realm.
  • Some retailers are addressing the oversupply of retail space within their larger units by introducing in-store concessions, providing variety and increasing dwell time. Next in Manchester Arndale now includes a Gino D’Acampo Prosecco Bar, a Costa Coffee, a Paint-a-Pot space and a florist.
  • to move alongside the transition towards online retailing, Nordstrom, a department store in the US, has opened a unit in California which has no physical stock, but instead the opportunity to pick-up, buy online and try on items. There is also a space for alterations, a coffee shop and a salon.
  • some online retailers have opened physical stores, such as Sofa.com and Missguided. Amazon have opened book stores in the US, giving new entrants to the market.
  • voids can also be filled by alternative uses, such as residential. Permitted change from retail to residential simplifies the planning process, requiring prior approval rather than full permission for sites under 150m². This partly addresses the demand for housing in certain town and city centres.
  • Local Authorities have recently invested more in the purchase of town centre properties, in order to gain control to strategically renovate and regenerate their local centres.

What do you think the future of our high streets is?

We are partnering with Debate Mate to host a series of debates, which will see 3,000 students from 150 secondary schools across the UK debating ‘the demise of the high street’. Debate Mate is an educational charity that uses university students to run after-school debate clubs in areas of high child poverty across the world.

As surveying professionals, we want you to get involved and join the debate online using the #RICSUDL and tell us your thoughts of the future of the high street? And the important role surveyors will play in helping the environments around us suit the needs of the community.