29 October, 2019

Not every high street needs an independent vegan café; what it needs is strong leadership

British high streets are at a turning point. Lessons learned in recent years show that we need greater innovation, faster decision-making, and bolder steps from planners and councils to revitalise our high streets. During the first of six London First roundtables in the What’s in Store: Transforming Our High Streets series – which aims to identify the top priorities for London – we discussed issues for developing mixed-use town centres and how these might be overcome.

What makes a good high street?

Firstly, it’s clear that one size does not fit all. People no longer need to go to a high street, they must be made to want to go to a high street. It must provide an experience that consumers will remember. This gives councils licence to try, and more importantly to fail, in order to get the right mix on their streets.

Not every high street needs an independent vegan café, in the same way that not every high street needs a gaming arcade. What every high street does need is to find its own format that directly appeals to consumers in its surrounding area – and one that keeps it busy at (almost) all times of the day. A mixture of uses, a mixture of cultures, and a mixture of independents and more well-known brands are all key to creating a successful high street for the long-term future.

The residential question

In theory, more people equal more footfall, and more footfall equals more sales. But more people living and sleeping near a busy high street mean more chance of noise complaints and more chance of stifled development plans. The Government's goal of 300,000 more homes per year means that almost every redevelopment plan will involve new residential units. Planners must take care to ensure that the overall scheme – often involving an outside of the 9-to-5 economy – does not interfere with these new residents.

So how are we going to get there?

The simple answer is strong leadership. More than any time before, the successful execution of a broad and ambitious development plan relies on those at the top. This includes the delegation of tasks to the appropriate people or groups. The council won’t have the expertise necessary to do most of the work. It should act as the facilitator, bringing in those who are experts in their field; those who will do the best job. There should be appropriate consultation and engagement with the local community – businesses, residents, and stakeholder groups.

Finally, more needs to be done to speed up the process of development approval in town centres and enable flexibility in those proposals. Planning policy and licensing frameworks must be improved to give councils the opportunity to rejuvenate high streets and bring in bold new ideas and concepts.

Which high streets should investors be focused on?

Retail Resilience, a recent research report from CBRE, has identified the best and worst performing areas across the UK. By analysing a range of metrics, CBRE has identified which cities, asset types and retail sectors are, and will continue to remain, resilient during the challenging retail climate. For further information on the report, please do contact me

London First is a business campaigning group with a mission to make London the best city in the world to do business. For further information on the What’s in Store: Transforming Our High Streets roundtable series, Please contact Sarah Bevan or Matthew Hill for further information.