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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Real Estate / 227: Levelling up – what challenges are our high streets facing?

The pandemic has clearly put great pressure on our high streets but they were already struggling before that.

Key recent challenges have been the internet, rent levels and the burden of business rates. Before that supermarkets and out of town centres had their impact. Put some once trendy but frankly awful urban design into the mix and we are left with rundown high streets up and down the country.

Regeneration of our towns and city centres is very much an issue for now.

So how do we do this?

There is no one simple solution but a range of policies and actions can help, tailored to the specific area; for example:

  • shrink the retail area – the extent of high streets need to reduce. The important point here is shrinkage not dilution. Interspersing high streets with residential or other uses reduces their appeal as a destination and so continues their decline;
  • repurpose old centres and surrounding areas – new businesses,  restaurants, leisure and cultural uses assist, helping to draw people in and keep them in the area. Integration not isolation is key here;
  • create destinations – high streets must become destinations, people must want to visit. Make it easy to access and to park, and attractive once there – pedestrians and traffic don’t mix well. Instead you need a range of interesting shops with a good proportion of independents, well laid out and clean public space, outside dining, street markets and events for atmosphere;
  • unity of ownership – this allows proper management of space, a good mix of occupiers, effective promotion and the use of some space for lower value activities which help create a sense of place;
  • affordability is another key issue. Space should be available at cheaper rates to attract start-ups and independent traders. Government needs to address the issue of business rates; and
  • finally, technology has a key role to play. Good digital connectivity is vital. In addition, areas should be using internet trading platforms to support their activities, rather than being the enemy. Let’s face it, ordering online from your local shop is going to do more for the local economy and to save the planet than another overpackaged delivery from an internet giant.

This is the challenge for the government’s levelling up agenda. There are lots of soundbites, lots of money and apparently lots of intent. But to succeed will require levels of engagement with local authorities, property owners, retailers and communities across the country at a level of intensity not seen to date. We will share more thoughts on this in our next article.

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