The report shows that city centres across England and Wales are over-dependent on retail and must work to create opportunities for offices, housing and public space to transform their economic prospects. The high number of empty shops in struggling city centres reflects the broader economic challenges that must be addressed in current Local Industrial Strategies being produced by Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The challenge is that, despite the central focus that property development and redevelopment often takes, the composition of commercial space in cities across the country is poorly understood. This report for the first time looks at the makeup of commercial space in town and city centres, presenting some of the interventions cities have made in the commercial property market in order to improve their offer, and making a series of policy recommendations for those writing Local Industrial Strategies.
Key recommendations of the report include:
- Struggling city centres* need to focus on creating a better environment for other firms and reduce their reliance on retail – Places need to focus on tackling skills gaps, improving transport infrastructure, and creating more quality office space.
- Places should also focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play –
This includes repurposing surplus commercial spaces for housing, amenities, public space or parkland to create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in – which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes.
- Successful city centres** need to manage the pressures of growth, and the squeeze on land and property it brings – Ensuring adequate housing is built in other areas and taking tough decisions to sustain the growth in their economies by protecting commercial space in central areas
There is much that cities and the government can do to help support and bolster retail such as business rates reform. We should be levelling the tax playing field for physical stores and online operators as well as showing real leadership and support for the re-invention of places and introducing more flexible platform to harness new opportunities for regeneration/repurposing. Our challenge is to work collaboratively with all parties to make the changes set out in this report to help to create proper mixed use places, which include retail in well designed, publicly accessible and attractive places.
Planning Director at GL Hearn, part of Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure
Commenting on these findings, Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:
“Each day seems to bring a new crisis for the high street, but the answer is not to double down on the declining retail sector. Instead, we need to reimagine struggling city centres as places where lots of different businesses can locate and create jobs – and where lots of people want to go to for a variety of reasons.
“Of course, repurposing high streets for other uses can be a difficult and costly process, and some cities will need investment from Government to support that transition. But it will be crucial in transforming the fortunes of our city centres, and the prospects of people living or working in them.”
* Struggling city centres are defined as those which have a lower than average share of jobs in high-productivity exporting firms, and a lower than average share of these are high-skilled. This group includes as Blackpool, Derby, Newport, Leicester, Swansea, and Mansfield.
** Successful city centres are defined as those which have a higher than average share of jobs in high-productivity exporting firms, and a higher than average share of these exporting jobs are high-skilled. This group includes Reading, Slough, Milton Keynes, London, Brighton, Cardiff, Leeds, Bournemouth, Manchester, and Birmingham.