Following the recent publication of data from Centre for Cities exploring the recovery of the UK high street from the Covid-19 pandemic, it was worrying to see that four of the eleven towns and cities where we are based, feature in the bottom ten for overall footfall.
Reading, Slough, Birmingham and London all appeared and, whilst it is no surprise that our towns and cities suffered as a result of the pandemic, it is clear that some are experiencing a return to pre-pandemic activity faster than others.
In the first of our series of articles exploring the theme of town centre repurposing, Managing Partner, Matthew Samuel-Camps, discusses the core challenges our town centres face in their recovery – starting with the need to take back a sense of place and purpose.
It is no secret that our town centres are experiencing an existential threat. Their degeneration, alongside the demise of the UK high street has accelerated over the past decade, catalysed by the pandemic.
Swiftly followed by the worst cost of living crisis since the 1950s and the resulting consumer squeeze, together with the energy crisis, rising business rates, changes to permitted development (PDR), and forthcoming EPC Regulations – we have the perfect town centre storm.
But what are we actually going to do about it?
Additional planning rights under permitted development (PDR) have seen larger retailers repurpose space in favour of other uses such as offices or residential – a trend which will likely continue in 2023, as the cost-of-living crisis prevails.
Indeed, the Levelling Up Fund recently awarded £20m to such a scheme in the East Midlands, which will see the former Beales department store transform into an office space and civic hub.
However, whilst it is all good and well to pivot redundant retail formats to support local supply gaps, planning change of use does not address the overarching question around just what the purpose of today’s town centres is.