The high street is dead, long live the high street

10th January 2021

The evolution of the high street is not new. Changing lifestyles and consumer trends have been shaping and re-shaping our neighbourhoods for decades. In-town vs out-of-town; shopping centre vs pedestrianised courtyard; megastores vs independents; bricks vs clicks.

What was exceptional in 2020 and now as we are in a national lockdown again, was the wholesale closure, by government instruction, for hospitality and retail businesses, for lengthy periods. We discussed this with multiple businesses, in our Future Workspaces report; the financial impact for so many firms is already evident, with many more boarded-up empty units.

We don’t have to look too far from the high street to see a history lesson in the physical infrastructure of social and economic change. Warehouse conversions, once hives of commerce, lain vacant for long periods, now renewed as homes and workspaces.

But it has taken decades for derelict industrial buildings to be regenerated in the UK. Is this the fate for boarded-up high street stores? Decisive action must be taken if we are to avoid a dereliction generation.

All high streets are not the same. The needs of rural and urban centres will differ, and with the ‘levelling up’ agenda setting out to address a deepening north-south divide, there is a risk of inequalities deepening. While progress has been made towards mixed-use high streets, in which residential, hospitality, leisure and office space sit cheek by jowl, schemes may not take account of the rapid changes in how we live and work. Will town centre studio flats provide the home-office or outside spaces so many people now seek? During 2020, according to Zoopla, the most searched-for term on their property pages was ‘garden’, for renters and buyers.

At the same time, what we need from the future workspace is changing. As we entice people back into re- imagined, collaborative, flexible offices, could we make high streets the hub for a different kind of commerce no longer dominated by retail?

The high street is the new frontier for urban regeneration. This requires big picture thinking and creative funding streams. Planning policies must be designed to encourage sustainable private investment, suitably flexible at a local level. A rates review is urgently called for by high street businesses. We need commercial landlords and occupiers to innovate, creating productive spaces for today’s landscape. It will take a collaborative approach from everyone involved, including the government, to address these challenges at pace.

And we would like to support this approach by working with you, to ensure that all of your innovations and renovations are legally sound and that all parties are protected. We’re here to help.

We would also like to give you access to the full 95-page Future Workspaces report, of which premises is one of many topics discussed and debated. Download your free copy here.

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