Regeneration of High Streets

I thought I would have a have quick stab at pre-empting Mary Portas’s impending report on High Streets and their rejuvenation (or regeneration).
This is a quick brain dump from me, based on a lifetime’s experience of visting and observing high streets all over the UK, rather than a closely argued and referenced document, and I will not try to cover all of the issues, but it will be interesting to see how close I get to the issues which Mary (who knows what she is talking about) does raise.
Here goes:
The Shop-keepers:
  • They need to really understand their market and their customers;
  • They need to get out and about to see what their competitors (including the regional shopping centres) are doing;
  • They need to make time to do their research, to keep up to date with what is happening in the wider world and how this affects their niche (for example, fashion trends).
  • They need to train themselves and their staff in customer service, and to talk to their customers;
  • They need to offer things which the chains and malls cannot offer.
The Shop/Premises:
  • The shops themselves need to be attractive, and have enough room for the customers to move around, and to look properly;
  • The goods need to be set out in a way which excites and inspires customers.
  • Need to involve designers and artists, to help with the look of shops, and the goods within them;
  • Some shop units in traditional high streets are too small for  many of the typical high street chains, so if you want to attract some of these as anchor stores Local Authorities need to help consolidate sites so that larger units (and a mix of  sizes) can be made available, but care must to taken to avoid ‘identikit’ high streets, so there must be a range of size of units available so that the independents and start ups can provide the mix which goes to provide distinctiveness;
  • Make empty shops (and empty spaces) available for temporary uses, such as pop-up shops.
The Place:
  • The public realm is important. The high street must look good and feel safe. Attractive and interesting shop fronts can help to achieve this (see comments above about designers and artists).
  • It must be kept clean and tidy, so the local authority must fulfil its responsibilities of keeping the street clean, and the shop keepers shouldn’t ‘dump’ their refuse in the street. Trees, planting,flowers, art and events help to give the impression that a place is cared for.
  • Having a mixture of uses in and around the high street is important – this means places to eat and drink, to stop and look, as well as to shop,
  • Uses other than shops close by (such as homes, offices and other work places, health centres, libraries, schools etc) will help to bring a variety of people onto the street which will make a place interesting and provide customers.
  • High Streets need to become multi functional places (as they used to be) and  in order to help provide footfall, events and entertainment need to be part of the mix.
Car Parking and Transport:
  • High Streets must have good transport (public, private and good old fashioned walking and cycling) so that customers, as well as staff,  can get to them.
  • Car parking is vital – it must be easily available and free.
  • The habit of Local Authorities using car parking charges and enforcement of restrictions as a source of income must cease.
  • High Streets need to be managed and the shops need to work together.
  • In the same way that the big shopping malls have dedicated management, to ensure that everything is working smoothly and to help their clients, the traditional high streets also need to have this focus. High Streets also need commercialisation managers to drive footfall and not take it for granted that customers will turn up.
  • Some high streets cannot maintain the rents which landlords seem to expect – if landlords prefer to keep units empty the Local Authority needs to step in and acquire, based on rents which ensure use (perhaps town centre associations need to be set up as social enterprises, to own and manage high streets for the greater good where absentee landlords are neglecting them).
 Well, that’s it – just a few quick thoughts whilst the tea is brewing. I look forward to Mary’s report and, just as importantly, what is done to implement her recommendations.
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