In February, Centre for Cities submitted its High streets and town centres in 2030 report to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The report attempted to predict the future of high streets and town centres in the UK and gave recommendations on the best way to create resilient town and city centres with a strong demand for local services.
To compile the report it analysed data on the 63 largest urban areas in the UK, including some that are not traditionally called cities such as Mansfield, Ipswich and Worthing. It was no surprise that the report affirmed that high streets are very much a reflection of how healthy the wider local economy is, and a reflection of the income levels of local workers.
However, it makes clear that the high street is just that, a reflection of the local economy, and it can therefore never be the driver of the local economy. The report states that: “The best way to create resilient town and city centres with strong demand for local services is to encourage growth in high skilled exporting businesses…like communications, marketing, digital and technology, consulting and financial services.”
Empty shops and office blocks
If you are driving to a large UK town or city that you have never visited before, and as you approach the town centre you see some office buildings, the condition of those offices, and the frequency with which you see them, will most likely give you a good idea whether you are about to visit a town that will have a Waitrose, a Pizza Express and several of the well-known coffee chains, or is more likely a town that has a Lidl, a Poundland and a multitude of betting shops.
The report looked at data from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) and found that the proportion of office, retail and other commercial space varies in different cities, and clear patterns emerge in relation to how strong the local economy is more generally.
Overall, 25% of commercial space in city centres is retail, while 50% is offices (a healthy ratio of 1:2). However, weaker city centres, such as Blackpool and Newport, have much more retail as a share of their commercial space than those with stronger economies such as Manchester and Leeds.