Europe has six out of the 10 most expensive retail streets in the world, according to Cushman & Wakefield. It is a major destination for international retailers, with JLL identifying strong demand for crossborder investment in the capital cities of Europe, particularly from US retail brands. London is the most attractive location for retail FDI, followed by Paris, Moscow, Milan and Madrid. Sales volumes are buoyant, with retail trade turnover in the EU currently at an all-time high. So why is everybody still talking about the decline of the High Street?
While the premier centres of Europe are doing well, the opposite is true for small and medium-sized town centres, particularly the latter. Middle-ranking centres are being squeezed on all sides by online shopping, out-of-town shopping that has free car parking, the move to convenience shopping (more local, more frequent) and multiple retailers favouring the higher order centres. High levels of shop vacancies, a weak retail and leisure mix and decay of the streetscape are some of the visible problems that need to be fixed. There are lots of different town centre entities trying to make things better, but few are addressing the structural issue. To make positive changes, a High Street has to act as one. All the key players involved need to join together and work together.
Two interesting initiatives are taking a new structure approach to town centre regeneration. One is using finance, the other is using technology. Town Centre Investment Management being developed by Peter Brett Associates involves the pooling of a critical mass of property assets in an investment vehicle. This single entity can then be asset managed to improve performance. Better Cities, with whom I work, is deploying a 'High Street digital platform'. This allows for commercial collaboration for all High Street participants. Its first offer through the MoreForMe brand allows shoppers to recover their parking costs when they spend in their local High Street, making a difference through unity and community.
Douglas Clark is director of Location Connections, consultants for economic development innovation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org