Special report: The high street of the future is like nothing we know

Bringing our town centres back to life requires some radical thinking, a new study will warn this week. Susie Mesure gets a preview

The sign on Superdrug's Kensington High Street shop is illustrative. "Sorry we have closed. But you can find us in Westfield, White City." A few hundred yards up the road, a former branch of the clothing retailer Warehouse bears a similar message.

This may be one of Britain's most well-heeled shopping destinations, but residents and office workers are no more immune to the lure of the mall, not to mention that "Buy me now" button on more than half of all mobile phones that is exacerbating pressure on retailers.

But if the present looks bleak for west London's latest retail casualties, which join 40,000 more empty shops across the UK, then the future could be rather more exciting. That's according to one veteran retailer, Bill Grimsey, who has spent the past three months investigating Britain's high streets and will set out a blueprint this week for how to reinvent even the least prosperous stretches of pawnbrokers and pound shops.

The catch is that town centres and high streets must stop seeing themselves as shopping destinations and embrace a more varied future, his report will warn on Wednesday.

Mr Grimsey, who embarked on his independent review out of frustration at the failure of an earlier Government-backed project by the retail consultant Mary Portas, will make 31 proposals – including a complete overhaul of how town centres are run. The former boss of Iceland and Focus DIY will say that the need for change to business rates, parking charges and bank lending is acute.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday ahead of the report's publication, he said the high street as we know it "is dead". He envisages old stores being turned into doctors' clinics, pre-school crèches, and social enterprises that put the local community at the heart of any solution.

Specifically, his report will call for the creation of town centre commissions that will be given the job of drawing up a 20-year business plan for their community. "They will consist of all stakeholders, from developers to retailers, have an annual budget and hold annual public meetings." He wants to see the initiative trialled in five towns by the end of this year, before creating one in every town by the end of 2014.

All towns will eventually be ranked in yearly league tables according to their performance, much like retailers run their businesses. This is all part of Mr Grimsey's attempt to create "vibrant, healthy towns to help grow the economy". He will criticise the lack of progress in the 18 months since the Portas review, pointing to the "eight major chains that have disappeared".

"That's major change. Our review is nothing to do with the magic notion of saving Britain's high streets," he added, in a dig at Mary Portas, who he said "promised the earth but delivered very little". "We can't rely on retailing to be the saviour of town centres any more. We need a more holistic solution."

The demand for space in overcrowded Britain is endless, yet 14 per cent of all retail outlets are vacant, research by the Local Data Company has found. In some towns, like Nottingham where 31 per cent of shops are empty, the situation is more desperate. Matthew Hopkinson, who heads the LDC and also worked on Mr Grimsey's report, called for more imagination backed by sweeping changes to planning regulations. "High streets have to become places where people live, work and socialise. Shopping will become secondary." The night-time economy will be as important as the day-time one, he added.

Candidates for new generation high streets could follow the example set in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where one former store, Thatchers Furnishings, is being turned into 40 student flats two years after going bust. In Watford, local residents turned an empty corner shop into a community centre. And in Wirral, shops have been transformed into community centres offering after-school clubs, healthy eating lessons and literacy courses.

But experts warned some projects would prove more difficult. Marcus Fagent, head of education at the property consultancy EC Harris, said there were many "technical and commercial reasons" that would prevent town centre shops from becoming new schools. He did say out-of-town retail parks offered more potential, however.

Tesco has scrapped plans to build more than 100 new stores across the UK. The supermarket giant is also struggling to reinvent its hypermarkets. Tesco recently renovated its Watford megastore to include a branch of Giraffe, the restaurant chain it bought for £50m earlier this year, as well as a Harris + Hoole coffee outlet – all part of its quest to make the weekly shop more of a day out.

As well as competition from online retail, which the consultants OC&C estimate already accounts for 11 per cent of all retail sales in the UK, high streets have lost out to lavish malls, such as those operated by Westfield. The Australian-owned group is thriving in Britain, where it owns four centres, in London, Dudley and Derby; more than 99.5 per cent of its property portfolio is leased. It even plans a £1bn extension for Westfield London, in White City, to encompass a further 550,000sq ft of retail, 1,500 homes, plus numerous restaurants and offices.

Mary Portas will come under pressure from MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee tomorrow about how her 12 so-called Portas pilot towns have fared. The retail consultant is expected to change tack by calling for high streets to shift their focus away from retail. She recently said retail units could take up around 30 per cent of space, with coffee shops, crèches, and sports centres filling empty units.

Separately, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, announces today that teams of experts will be made available to train 350 towns in how to adapt their high streets to changing consumer behaviour.

Richard Hyman, one of the industry's most experienced analysts, said an "integrated strategy" was crucial. "Not a two-year fix but a long-term strategy. The Government has to understand that playing around with the packaging won't make any difference."

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence