Future of the UK high street

Article 24 January 2022 Experience: Real estate

Last year we produced a detailed study on the Future of the High Street examining the indelible mark that Covid will leave on Britain’s cities and town centres and suggesting some solutions.

Last week, the Financial Times published a report on how the British High Street has been hit by the pandemic. As well as presenting a grim picture of a struggling bricks and mortar retail sector, the study countered much of the received wisdom around where the Covid-related downturn has been most acute. The data shows a new category of troubled locales where changing consumer behaviours have created a loss-making physical retail sector in some of our wealthiest regions. It will come as no surprise that some of the worst impacted areas in recent times are previously vibrant city centres and transport hubs across the UK which have been suffering from a lack of footfall from office workers, travellers and commuters. The extent to which the current working patterns will stick remains a subject of debate. This uncertainty has created an environment where investors will be nervous, being unsure of when any bounce back will occur.

Tom Hughes, real estate and hospitality partner at Withers said: “The challenge for the traditional retail sector is how to re-capture spending that is no longer taking place in and around former hubs of dependable activity because of changes in working patterns. The FT’s research suggests that opportunities exist in non-traditional areas – around smaller towns, commuter-belt and suburban areas – and that green shoots of regeneration in these places, linked to increased retail, hospitality and leisure activity, could shine a spotlight on these destinations like never before.”

In our report, we explored what is needed if we are truly going to reinvigorate our high streets and city centres. We discussed what will be required to restore the identity, locality and sense of community to create a bustling environment. Retail needs to be underpinned by a thriving cultural and entertainment offering including heritage, music, the arts, film, food and drink. Creating new experiences, including a blurring of work and social spaces will drive consumer behaviour, generating footfall and filling out empty units.

Jeremy Wakeham, real estate partner and Withers Business Division CEO said: “It is clear that High Streets have been suffering for some time as a result of online retail and that the pandemic has accelerated this state of affairs. Withers has been working with investors and entrepreneurs who see the reinvigoration of our town centres as an opportunity. Ultimately, only innovation and imaginative solutions will enable our town centres to catch up with changing consumer behaviours.”

Find out more in our report on the Future of the High Street.

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