Fourteen shop units close each week! This sounds scandalous and horrific but it is a tale that will run and run and nothing will really change. Since the development of the first Arndale Centre we have lived through the slow, gradual, eroding power of the High Street.
The boom of easy access, car ownership, seven-day trading, relaxation of out of town planning, and the major chains and supermarkets’ growing power have all been nails in the High Street’s coffin.
My question is, why are we now paranoid about the terminally ill patient? Have we only just woken up to what has been inevitable for decades?
The biggest challenge for the High Street and our Town Centres is the disparate ownership of the buildings, which means there is a selfish approach to solving an individual investment problem, such as a vacancy, rather than a coordinated, strategic resolution.
The solution to harnessing different mind sets and investment strategies lies in knowing how property investment works and how the ownership of our towns and cities is made up.
Investors fall broadly into four categories: pension funds and investment companies which are long-term owners of units and blocks; developers which want to acquire, build, redevelop, sell to investors and move on; traders who will buy and sell units within a relatively short timescale, usually three years, and hope to add value to make a profit; and the owner-occupiers who own the building and run the retail operation.
Within a town or city our High Streets will typically have a variety of owners with one party owning one building, or a chunk of buildings, and others doing the same. To coordinate High Street owners’ interests is asking a lot of the investors, traders and developers – it is virtually impossible!
In comparison, town Centre managers have been with us since the 1980’s and were introduced to start turning the tide and aligning varied interests. The past three decades have shown a change in townscapes’ usage as technology evolves and we inevitably slide from bricks to clicks.
We need to open our minds and let the High Street continue its regression, embrace the changes that come and allow flexibility for the property experts to make money by keeping their assets alive… although there will still be pain along the way.