Retail guru Wrigley says the high street is in a 'death spiral'

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The Independent Online

The former chairman of the fashion retailer New Look has said the high street is in an "death spiral" and has recommended re-classing empty shops for residential use.

Phil Wrigley, the chairman of the retailer Majestic Wine, also criticised the recent report on the high street by Mary Portas, the self-styled Queen of Shops, as the "right diagnosis, wrong prescription".

His views, based on nearly 30 years in the retail sector, come at a time when more than 14 per cent of town centre shops onaverage are vacant.

Mr Wrigley called for the "reinvention" of high streets. He said: "Retailing will never be the same again, but there is much to be gained from facing up to this fundamental, and irreversible, truth. In doing so, we might just create the space in which we can re-cast and revitalise our town centre communities."

Mr Wrigley added: "There comes a point at which vacancy rates are so high that no new retailers will come in to a location because they don't want to be sited among empty shops. It is, in effect, a death spiral. There is some debate about precisely where this threshold lies but it's probably between 20 per cent and 30 per cent."

He believes the high street has failed to keep up with a "forty-year revolution in retail", citing factors including how the big supermarkets, online and shopping centres, complete with leisure facilities, have changed the landscape.

Mr Wrigley, who began his carreer at Debenhams in 1984, expects more retail casualties in the "coming weeks and months", following the demise of Peacocks, Past Times and La Senza recently.

On a more positive note, he forecasts the UK will get more malls, which will become like leisure villages whereconsumers take "brief holidays".

Speaking at Oxford University yesterday, Mr Wrigley said the planning system needs to focus on "making it easier to re-class former retail premises for residential development".

He argues that most small shops could be converted into residential units and shoppers' car parks could be changed to residential ones.

"If people returned to town centres, as residents not visitors, the effects could be far-reaching," said Mr Wrigley.

He left New Look in January 2010 and has also held roles at Arcadia, Habitat and Bhs.