High Street needs post-war scale rebuilding says report


Alternative use must be made of empty commercial properties

Related Stories

Rejuvenating town centres requires radical action on a scale not seen since the building programmes of post-war Britain, according to a new report.

The Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce says structural changes needed in retail are so fundamental, many towns and cities need reshaping.

The taskforce was set up following Mary Portas's review of the High Street.

The report calls on the government to designate town and city centres as key national infrastructure.

Start Quote

There's still a need for vibrant retail, just less of it”

End Quote Mark Williams Taskforce chairman

In its scale and range, it is an unprecedented group. For the past 13 months, senior retailers, property investors, landlords and bankers have been investigating the impact of the changes that have affected retail and property in England's towns and city centres.

In other words, the folk who own and finance so much of our town centres have come up with their own solutions on what to do.

Too many shops?

One of the main recommendations is that the government should designate town and city centres as key national infrastructure in order to open up new funding opportunities.

The retail landscape has changed completely in the last five years, thanks to the recession and the shift to online shopping.

It has left most towns with too many shops.

The report found that in the past four decades, retail floor space in England increased by around 43 million square metres.

That is the equivalent of building nearly 300 Bluewater Shopping centres across England, or seven of the new Westfield centres near the London Olympic site every year since the early 1970s.

The chairman of the taskforce, Mark Williams, said: "There's still a need for vibrant retail, just less of it."

Mr Williams, who is also a partner at the retail property firm, Hark Group, added: "Over the past 12 months, it has become increasingly clear that waiting for so called 'normal' economic growth to return is unviable: Many more town centres will have embarked on a course of terminal decline."


Solutions, he says, will vary from place to place but for the overwhelming majority, a smaller retail core is necessary and alternative uses like housing and leisure need to be found.

Taskforce chair Mark Williams: "People do not shop in the same way"

But for local authorities, it hasn't been easy tackling the surplus of space and with it the scourge of empty properties.

There are often a myriad of different landlords and competing interests to deal with, as well as getting funding.

Friday's report spells out the problems along with recommendations for change.

They include:

  • Government should designate town and city centres as infrastructure in order to open significant funding opportunities currently not accessible. A High Street Infrastructure platform should be set up to help to deliver this idea
  • Bold and strategic land assembly is required. Government should pilot a joint venture vehicle and an associated High Street property fund to pool land assets and address fragmented ownership
  • Make it easier for councils to use compulsory purchase powers in order to bring about the scale required for major urban regeneration
  • Local authorities should take more risk in investing capital reserves now, which can be replenished as the economy recovers
  • Significantly greater flexibility in the planning system is needed to enable quick and easy change of use from redundant retail premises to more economically productive uses

Edward Cooke, the director of policy for the British Council of Shopping Centres, said: "All stakeholders have a role to play: Individuals, local councils, local and national businesses and central government.

"We believe these recommendations will deliver the direction and the funding necessary to make this happen."


The question is, who will be paying for all this potential change?

The group says it is not asking the taxpayer to foot the entire bill. Often the problem is down to a gap in funding, which, if plugged, would make a development viable.

The Taskforce believes post-financial crisis, the traditional funding models for town centre redevelopment are no longer fit for purpose.

New ways of funding have to be found and that key bodies in the retail and property sectors are keen to play their part.

The message from the retail property industry to the government is clear: they are prepared to demolish land and write off distressed buildings to regenerate town centres, if the public sector and government can make it easier rebuild.

Mr Williams said: "There is a huge amount of private sector funds available to regenerate town centres. But it requires scale and planning. What it's not there is for piecemeal change, an ad hoc approach to fix the odd shop.

Start Quote

All stakeholders have a role to play: Individuals, local councils, local and national businesses and central government”

End Quote Edward Cooke British Council of Shopping Centres

"So we're looking about scale and critical mass. And in that sense the private sector will respond to local authorities and government initiatives."


The Taskforce says it is up to individual communities and local authorities to decide what is right for their area. But "future proofing" towns will require strong local leadership.

The big commercial stakeholders in our towns and cities are not often comfortable bedfellows, but they have all signed up to this report.

"What is extremely pleasing is that a wide coalition of influential stakeholders has united behind agreed parking issues and develop local plans and good local vision," said Tom Ironside, British Retail Consortium Director of Business and Regulation.

The government, which encouraged the Taskforce to be set up, is now digesting the findings.

The Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, said: "It's a really interesting report with some really interesting things here which we need to look at. We are doing an awful lot for the High Street, we're empowering local communities to shape their town centres for what's right for their communities in the future."


More on This Story

Related Stories

From other news sites

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    We don't need as many shops as we used to do, but we do need more independent shops selling more specialised products. Towns will continue to die if there is nothing available other than cheap imported clothing, mass produced jewellery, mobile phones and pseudo sports wear, all accompanied by a take-away, cup of coffee a bet on the horses and a quick loan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    9. SheffTim

    "Interesting that the private sector – retailers, landlords, property developers etc – ask for public sector assistance when things get tough."

    What an amazingly ignorant statement. Where on Earth do you think the public sector get's its money from in the first place???

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Large-scale re-development of town centres to include affordable housing is essential and should be a requirement for any town before building on green spaces is allowed, especially where these are outside their town boundary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    There are lots of people wanting to start new retail and commercial businesses. We could rejuvenate the High Street tomorrow if rents were responsive to market forces, but they only ever adjust upwards, never down.

    We should resist pressure from landowners who are really only eyeing the housing market with an eye to making a fast buck at the expense of our communities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    In my area - Oxford the local indoor market that's been there for 800 years are seeing empty stalls because the council have increased rates by 50% in the last year.

    Its about time the local councils in all arears stop milking anyone they can from traders to people wanting to park their cars in city centers.

    They created and are still pursuing policies that make it hard for traders to operate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I don't think any 'Government plan' will sort this out. Towns evolved to their current state through natural economic forces, and will have to evolve naturally again to meet the new conditions. Forcing a govt solution will be like those 1960's 'planned factory towns' which sank the moment the massive subsidies went.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The high street is no longer economically viable or practical to shoppers. Out of town and online shopping have killed off the small retail businesses that once was the lifeblood of high streets across the country. I would love to see them return but i fear that they have had their day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I live in a medium sized market town in Cheshire.. We have 2 superstores a large supermarket and 2 supermarkets, plus numerous extras and the like within a few miles of the town centre. Planning permissiion has just been given for another superstore. What chance has the Hig Street got with or without rebuilding it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Everyone is quick to blame others but it should be remembered that the only reason the Supermarkets and out of town malls thrive at the expense of local shops is because so many people use them - I use local services, the butcher, fishmonger etc but they are only there because people like me bother to use them, how many others on here can say same? Maybe, just maybe you are part of the problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The change in small town centres in the suburbs of Portsmouth is enormous. Cosham High Street, for example, consists of Poundshop, Oxfam, YMCA Charity Shop, Heart Foundation Charity Shop, Subway, Salvation Army Charity shop, Greggs, Costa Coffee, Take Away Sandwich shop, Small Cafe, Fish and Chip shop, " Betting Shops....Tesco,Iceland and, thank goodness, Local Greengrocers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    60. SilentNoMore

    I can't see why people are so anti-chain stores. My local town center has almost no independent shops (apart from a small market hall), but it still has a very nice atmosphere and there is a good range of shops for local people. People should accept chain stores as a fact of life and a sign of progress.

    And on your other point, many retail parks now offer free parking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.


    Exactly. A small business owner who sees that there is a market for something can make enough money to live on. What they can't do is make enough money for them, the bank and the council to live on. But why should they be funding the lives of the bank and the council? What do the bank/council do other than make demands and get in the way? Reduce red tape for small enterprises!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I am going to open a fruit and veg shop, will it be OK to set my headquarters up in Luxembourg?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    My local council has a brilliant plan to get people put off by high parking fees back into the centre of town - they have now introduced parking meters in all the suburban shopping areas. In 10 years time they'll be surprised when all the suburban shops have closed down too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Now is the chance to remodel our town centres.

    I suggest we do it along the lines of Italian and Spanish towns with central squares; converting shops and offices to homes at the same time.

    Please keep that self publicist Mary Portas away from our towns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Forget Portas. Accept out of town and internet shopping is here to stay. Build more housing in town centres where more people will help to sustain the shops that remain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The out-of-town stores need to be dealt with in order to rejuvenate town centres. They suck the blood out of cities and waste vast amounts of fuel for people travelling to and from them. Tax each out-of-town parking space to the tune of £1000 a year ans use the money to support town centres and the public transport services to get there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    In France they have big out of town shopping centres, but the towns themselves still have the little individual shops. Here you have to pay exhorbitant parking charges, shops charge too much because of the high business rates. We are just too greedy in this country for the littleman to survive, sad but true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    27. DeadMike
    Support local businesses.
    Agreed - heck I even had a conversation with someone I didn't know the other day. Lost art

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Councils THINK that if they charge more and more for car parking whilst at the same time reducing car parking spaces then shoppers will switch to public transport instead.

    Wrong - shoppers don't bother and switch to the internet instead.

    But that's La-La Council-Land thinking (or rather, lack of thinking land).


Page 26 of 30


More Business stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.