For High Streets across the country, the major negative is the drop in people shopping locally. After suffering the worst fall in almost a decade last November, shopper footfall continued to deteriorate in December falling by 3.1% year-on-year.
Even recent increases in the value and volume of retail spending are eyed with some suspicion because of the heavy price discounting that many retailers are employing. Not surprising then, that Intu – one of the major owners of UK shopping centres saw its portfolio value slide by £1.4bn last week – a fall of 13%.
There’s a multi-layered set of factors that’s contributing to the UK’s retail malaise but, in that context, too much blame is placed on the rise of online retailing. There is every indication that the growth in shopping online is now slowing and will plateau at around 23-25% of total spend.
The most important fact that is often overlooked is that we simply just have too many shops. Thirty years of shopping centre and retail park development that added to established retail centres in towns and cities has left us chronically oversupplied. High Streets have been worst affected mostly because they often have the type of shops that retailers want least.
It’s time for a rethink and in that context it’s refreshing to hear the Centre for Cities suggesting a new way of looking at High Streets. Its report, The City Centres: Past, Present and Future, says that focusing on the struggles of certain High Streets ignores the success of well-performing city centres, and that the core problem of insufficient footfall in city centres was actually due to a lack of skilled jobs.
The research claims that successful city centres have fewer shops, and are supported by knowledge-based office jobs which in turn, creates a demand for restaurants, bars and other leisure activities to thrive on the High Street. Rather than seeing town centres as a preserve for shopping, it takes a much broader view of what should drive our High Streets.
It’s the beginning of a new way of thinking about tech-enabled town centres and there’s even a £675m pot of funding in the shape of the Government’s Future High Streets Fund to help local authorities get the ball rolling. The focus needs to be not on saving the High Street but reshaping it. And that means a lot fewer shops.