Blog: 23 November 2018A drop in a changing ocean

Nicole Roe

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Nicole Roe

Planning Associate

Manchester office

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I recently passed slightly scathing comment on the effectiveness of our illustrious Chancellor’s budget ideas for reviving the High Street.  Whilst I support the changes he is proposing I feel they are a drop in the ocean and this is why...

We had a Retail boom before the recession when supermarkets were king and public spending was high.  The recession made everyone stop and think for a moment about what they were doing and tighten belts…and those belts haven’t been slackened yet.  We, the general public, are now more aware of the impact that over stretching financially can have and are scared by the uncertainty we face from BREXIT. We are spending differently to how we did 10 years ago and it isn’t going to change in the near future.

This is a bigger contributor to the changes that we have seen take place on our high streets than the rate of corporation tax or any difficulty there may be in changing the use of existing buildings.  The retail market has fundamentally changed but the way that we plan for retail and town centre uses has remained static.

We also need to remember that this issue is not one that is unique to the UK, America is facing similar problems. Today is traditionally the busiest retail day of the year for US stores but as I read the news round-up over my morning coffee I see similar headlines on the demise of Black Friday in the US press as I see here. One of my contemporary’s over the pond said:

BF still certainly has some relevance but that is quickly waning as the November promotion machine has swallowed the day whole. What’s important to note, however, is that this [is] not strictly a brick-and mortar issue – but a retail one in general.

We have seen a spreading-out effect occur across the landscape when it comes to deals, which has created a dilution in terms of retail sales across the holiday shopping season. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday corridor – or as I dubbed it last year, “Cybergivingblackfriweek.”

Greg Maloney, CEO Retail JLL USA

The relaxation of the Use Class Order and an easing of corporation tax are both great ideas, but they are not a solution. In second tier retail centres that are struggling to compete against their larger more affluent neighbours the proposed changes will not magically create occupiers to fill the voids.

Those centres need a strong evidence base to provide the research background to the creation of targeted regeneration frameworks. Every centre is different and the solutions to facilitate change will be different. We need to move away from ‘one size fits all’ solutions and tailor make initiatives not retro-fit something that might have worked 50 miles down the road.

Not every town needs a food market. Not every town has vacant office space that is suitable for reuse as retail or residential. Not every town has a shopping centre that the Local Authority can buy (in fact a lot of towns don’t have a Local Authority with the means to buy the local shopping centre). Not every town can support an arthouse cinema.

Local Authorities need to be given the tools by Central Government to properly assess their centres. By tools I mean resources. They need funding to be able to hire the likes of me to survey and analyse the shopping and employment patterns, get under the skin of what is happening in the local retail market and why. Plans for the next five years (not 30) can then be drawn up to help attract and direct investment to where it is needed most. They need the freedom to be able to collaborate with whichever parties are necessary to create jobs, improve health and well-being, improve education standards, create whatever change is required to turn communities round, provide security to get people using town centres again.

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Retail, Black Friday