Recession to Renaissance: What is the future for our high streets?

Commercial Property Consultants Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) and Revo (organisation which supports the interests and values of the whole retail, leisure, & placemaking real estate community) have partnered to gather the views of key stakeholders and decision makers from across the public and private sectors with a vested interest and investment in the future planning, management and regeneration of the UK’s towns, high streets and shopping centres.

Here are some of the key points:

  • The top three challenges facing the high street identified by stakeholders are:
    • The oversupply of retail floorspace and rising vacancy rates (43%); high inflation and the prospect of recession (40%); and business rates (38%).
    • Concerns about the growth of online shopping sparked by the pandemic appear to be subsiding. In the latest survey 37% of respondents are concerned about its impact on the high street, down from a peak of 70% at the height of the pandemic.
    • High and rising occupancy costs is identified as one of the top 5 challenges facing our towns, high streets and shopping centres by 28% of respondents.
  • 61% of respondents identified that between 20% to 40% of retail space in our centres needs to be either replaced, redeveloped or repurposed.
  • By far the top intervention in towns and shopping centres respondents from both the public and private sectors believed will most help address the UK’s pledge to tackle climate change over the next ten years is the improvement of public transport networks (69%)
  • Further fundamental reform of business rates is thought to be the Central Government initiative/intervention which will be most effective in supporting our towns, high streets, and shopping centres over the next five years (69% of respondents)
  • An overwhelming majority (72%) of respondents called for vacant retail space to be either redeveloped or repurposed for alternative uses. This represented an increase from 61% in 2022 and further confirms that many of our centres simply have too much retail space.
  • Almost half (48%) identified the need to increase the supply and mix of housing in town centres.
  • Overall 24% called for reduced &/or free car parking in centres to help support their vitality and viability.  Compared with the public sector (8%), a higher proportion (30%) of private sector respondents
  • 38% of respondents identified the need to improve town centres environment, public realm and green spaces as a priority* over the next five years. This will help create more attractive and beautiful places where more people will choose to live, work, visit and spend more time (and money). *One of Blackburn BID’s priorities for Blackburn town centre.
  • In terms of the critical mix of uses and services in centres that will help underpin success, 72% of respondents said food and beverage was most important, followed by new homes with 46% support, and low cost / flexible rent space in third with 30%.
  • In response to the question whether the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill will have a “positive” or “negative” impact on the recovery and revitalisation of our centres over the next five years, 46% expect it to be “positive” or “extremely positive” and over one-third (37%) think its impacts will be “immaterial”, or were undecided (10%).  In particular 61% think new powers for Local Authorities to bring empty premises back into use will be positive.
  • Some two-fifths (40%) of respondents to this year’s survey agreed that all parties should lead on town centre regeneration, very similar when compared with 41% in 2022.
    • Of the remainder: 17% indicated that local authorities should take the lead; 13% called for greater public-private collaborations/partnerships; and 9% identified the potential for greater powers for Regional/ devolved Government.
  • 82% from the public sector indicated their organisations had development and/or investment plans for their town centre, up from 76% in 2022; and 44% from the private sector have plans for investment and/or development, which is also higher than the previous year (30%).
  • 26% of respondents said they were actively seeking to invest in ‘private residential’ over the next 5 years, followed by co-working space (24%) and high street retail (21%).
  • 45% of respondents feel optimistic or very optimistic about the futures of towns and high streets they are currently operating in, or engaged with.  21% feel pessimistic or very pessimistic.
  • In conclusion, successful future centres will be those that help to promote health and well-being, tackle deprivation and the climate crisis, and provide attractive, viable and entertaining places where people of all ages want to live, work, shop, study, play and socialise. Above all, they should be vibrant, fun and safe places …. restored once again as the “beating hearts and souls of our communities”.

The full report can be found here: From recession to renaissance: what is the future for our towns, high streets and shopping centres? (