Our High Streets: What Next?
It’s no surprise to hear that shopping has changed over the last 50 years.
First, the development of the hypermarket, and at one time, Telford had the largest one in UK when Carrefour opened at what has now become Telford Shopping Centre.
This brings us neatly on to the development of the retail park. Large car parks and large stores. Again, Telford probably has more than it’s fair share of these, too.
Scroll on to the 2000s, and we see the advent of online shopping. What a change. With Amazon Prime, I can order even something quite obscure and have it in my hand tomorrow.
What does all this mean? It means that we cannot expect the High Streets our parents hark back to will not be returning any time soon. What we can expect, is a rationalisation, a reboot, a right sizing of our local Market Towns.
The future is more concentrated High Streets with more food & drink, things to do, not just to buy, and services. Yes, nail bars.Yes, hairdressers and yes tattooists. I predict a surge of tattoo removal shops too, but that’s another story.
We are seeing these changes take place albeit haphazardly and painfully slowly, but what isn’t changing is the rents & rates to encourage entrepreneurs to take that chance on opening a small, niche store where you can get your TV repaired and buy a vintage radio. A store where you can drop in and try your hand at throwing a pot on a wheel and buy some art. A coffee shop where you can try some Java beans before committing to buy a kilo.
I was at a meeting where the problem was laid out before me. Many shops were bought by out of town investors for their portfolio. Price paid would have taken into account the amount of rent they could charge.
That rent was most likely set when times were good. Now, not so much. And here’s the kicker; if the landlord reduces the rent then the value of the property drops. This means that the value of the portfolio is reduced, and all of a sudden the company isn’t doing quite so well.
In cases like these, sometimes companies with a large portfolio would rather sit on a few empty properties with an unobtainable rental figure, rather than reduce the rent and take the hit on the property value.
Even if we can overcome this, there are lots of shops simply in the wrong place as the town centres contract.
It’s going to take something drastic. A clean sheet approach in order to change our High Street’s for the better. Right now, I can imagine a smaller, more vibrant High Street. What I can’t see is how we get there.
Do we ask local authorities to be ruthless in planning? Can we get businesses to move to more suitable locations? Can we force a better mix of business? Should we?