Sunday, 13 July 2014

What is the right mix of retailers on the High Street?

I'm sitting on a High Street, looking at the range of shops and wondering if the mix of shops makes the difference in the vibrancy of any High Street or town centre.

Just in my line of vision, I see a food shop, shoe shop, pet shop, pound store, pharmacy, clothes shop and a variety store. Over the street is a coffee shop, an optician, a card shop, 2 fast food shops, a bookmakers and a charity shop. It's a good mix and with ample parking and safe places to cross the road, it's a vibrant area with places to spend, eat and just stop and watch the world go by. Slightly further in the same street are 2 supermarkets, another fast food shop, a car wash, a chain pub and a DIY store.

When High Streets and town centres grow up organically to have a collection of shops that attract a range of customers, then it just works.  It's when the free market doesn't provide this vibrancy that local planners and councils need to get involved.

So how does this happen?

When there is a high demand for commercial property, then planners can look at accepting or rejecting certain uses based on the mix they already have. Landlords can look at choosing a tenant based on the longevity if their tenure as a viable business and a degree of survival of the fittest occurs to ensure the very best retailers are present.

When it doesn't happen

But we haven't been in a situation as competitive as this for several years now, so landlords will be far less choosy in their tenants. At the start of the financial meltdown, commercial landlords would probably have taken anyone who could pay the rent.

So planners have to take the lead and provide planning rules that allow diverse retailers to a High Street without penalising the landlords. This is a fine line, and planning officers have generally been quite lenient in their criteria over the last 6 years or so.

I would strongly suggest that the criteria be clearly laid out and stuck to rigidly for every application. Filling a High Street with charity shops or discounters in a downturn isn't the only way out of the downturn.

People look for bargains, look for value but the days of buying things just because they are cheap has disappeared. Customers are savvier and want something that will do the job they've bought it for.

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