Hardly a week goes by without news of another famous retail chain scaling back or closing it's high street presence. In a post-Covid world, is more town and city centre housing the way forward?
The migration to online shopping has been chipping away at the high street for a long time, but Covid has been the death knell for some of the UK's best known retailers. Perhaps the decline would have been slower, but the pandemic has squeezed a decade's worth of evolution into a single year.
According to Savills, 12.5% of retail space is now vacant, a figure likely to rise to 25% by the end of the decade unless action is taken.
Ritchie Clapson of propertyCEO believes that town centres will need to be more leisure oriented, becoming places where people want to spend their time. More boutique retailers, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and theatres could replace the betting shops and vape stores that now occupy so many recently vacated premises. It will be up to independent retailers to recreate the thriving hubs that town centres used to be.
He goes on to suggest that the repurposing of existing buildings to residential use will be key to achieving this. People like to live in busy centres and businesses need footfall to succeed. A virtuous cycle could be established - increasing the number of residents will help to create a balance between homes, workplaces, leisure and retail, further increasing the attractiveness of town centres to more residents.
Borough councils take note. Oh, and take a look at Altrincham to see the benefits a rejuvenated high street brings to a town's residents.