The Changing Face of the British High Street: Doom and Gloom or Opportunity?

With most retailers having now reported on their Christmas trading performance, it is clear that the changes seen in Britain’s shopping habits in recent years are continuing to have an impact on the high street.  The growth of online shopping, which accounted for 20% of all sales in December 2018[1], combined with falling consumer confidence as the date of the UK leaving the EU approaches, has created difficult conditions for traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers.  Real Estate advisors Altus Group predict that more than 23,000 shops and 175,000 high street jobs could be lost in 2019, an average of 63 shops per day, with big names including Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser announcing store closures.

The loss of retailers from the high street is also affecting landlords and the owners of shopping centres.  Investment company Columbia Threadneedle announced the sale of the Postings Shopping Centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife with a reserve price of one pound, saying that operational costs outweighed the rents it obtains from the remaining businesses.

The government is taking steps to tackle the issue, introducing the Future High Streets Fund, a £675m pot which will provide co-funding towards capital projects that bring transformative change and regeneration of town centres and high streets.  The Fund recognises changes in the way people use their high streets. Based on evidence that centres with a mix of retail, office and residential space are adapting more successfully to change it intends to provide investment for land assembly, investment in physical infrastructure, traffic improvements and adaptation to new technologies.  The prospectus describes high streets as “the barometers of our prosperity and the heartbeats of the places we call home”, highlighting their importance beyond their function as a place of retail and commerce.

The government is calling for expressions of interest from local authorities who wish to transform their high streets, detailing the challenges they face and their strategy for regeneration.  ekosgen are on hand to support bidders to the Future High Streets Fund, with expressions of interest due in by the 22nd March.  We have a wealth of experience in economic development and regeneration and are currently working with partners including local authorities across England and Scotland to help them address the impacts of economic change. 

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[1] Retail sales, Great Britain: December 2018, ONS