Leading land agents Aston Mead are calling for government intervention to prevent the death of the UK High Street.
The company says that many town centre premises are crying out for redevelopment, but without action by the local authority nothing will ever change because not all asset-holders share the same objectives.
Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Adam Hesse said: “The grim truth is that many of our High Streets are no longer fit for purpose. Companies which are failing to move with the times are going under, not helped by the boom in internet shopping. But leaving these business to their own devices will only mean that the situation is likely to stagnate further.
“For example, why don’t local authorities employ retired planning officers to go around the towns in each of their boroughs, to see which sites – often secondary retail parades, garages and car showrooms – are currently under-utilised? Then, if the government gives local authorities enough power, the councils could compulsorily purchase those premises which are struggling, and relocate the thriving businesses to empty retail units in the heart of town.”
Adam Hesse says that this process would encourage town centres to become more vibrant, with fewer empty shops, more residents moving in, and the opportunity to redevelop the sites on the edge of the town centre.
He explained: “People often want to go into town to socialise – and we need to make the surroundings more conducive to this, rather than presenting them with row upon row of charity shops – and, dare I say it, estate agencies – as at present.
“The newly vacated buildings on the edge of town could then be redeveloped – often adding extra floors if necessary. For example, a former two-storey parade of shops could be turned into a luxury retirement scheme over many storeys, with perhaps a doctors’ surgery and pharmacy on the ground floor. This would create a win / win situation, with more vibrant town centres and new medical facilities precisely where they are needed.
“Admittedly, we also need new planning regulations to be more flexible than in the past. Perhaps start-up shops should have business rates waived for six months to give them a chance to get going. And we need councils to be more creative in their approach to making our town centres more attractive to shoppers – such as pedestrianising the High Street for part of the day, or providing free parking for those spending over £25.
“So the death of the High Street is definitely not inevitable. But we believe it will take government intervention to prevent it from happening. And as time is running out, such action needs to happen soon.”