Retail veteran warns of 'death spiral' for shopping streets
Thursday 02 February 2012
A veteran retailer has urged the Government to reject Mary Portas's plans to save the high street, claiming many shopping streets are "in a death spiral".
Phil Wrigley, the chairman of Majestic Wine, who has held directorships at New Look, Debenhams and BHS, likened high streets to the shipbuilding industry and said many should be converted to housing.
In a speech at Oxford University, he said many shopping streets were "irrelevant to the needs of shopping today" as people chose instead to shop on the internet or at supermarkets and out-of-town malls.
He said the findings of TV star Portas's review into how to save the UK's high streets, which has an average of one in six shops empty, held the "right diagnosis, wrong prescription".
The self-styled Queen of Shops made 28 recommendations to the Government, including setting up national market days and "town teams" to get retailers, landlords and councils to work more closely together and introduce more free parking.
But Mr Wrigley decried the Government's efforts as "propping up a failing sector".
He said: "Unlike Mary Portas, I don't think we can continue to try and muddle through, supporting the traditional high street model."
He added: "There comes a point when the vacancy rate is 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 where the threshold lies but it is probably between 20% and 30%."
Blighted high streets should be turned into housing, which would still have some shops but on a much smaller scale.
By 2025 out-of-town shopping malls and leisure centres would converge to become "leisure villages in which we take brief holidays", he said. The rise of the internet would herald fewer but larger stores.
In comments reported by the Financial Times, he added: "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 shopping centre communities."
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