April 2012 Archives
The Local Government Association published a survey earlier this month which tackles the issue of high street 'clustering', which I have blogged about before on here, and once again it is of little surprise to see such things heavily lamented by council members. What I find particularly interesting about this survey, however, is the type of premises that councillors feel will help most to regenerate struggling high streets.
The officers rate books and clothes stores, restaurants, and local butchers and bakers highest with over 90% of those surveyed claiming these types of outlets were the most important elements needed to help restore the future vitality of Britain's high streets. Surprisingly, however, only 68% seemed to think that leisure elements such as cinemas and bowling alleys were of importance to ensuring town centre recovery.
The results seem to largely ignore the fact that supermarkets have largely made the traditional high street model redundant via a combination of favourable parking provision and unbeatable prices over a sustained period of time, perhaps pointing to a degree of romanticism. This feeling doesn't appear to be shared by developers and shopping centre owners nationwide.
Legal & General's Castle Place Market in Trowbridge; Harbourside Developments' Telford Shopping Centre; Capital Shopping Centres' Potteries Centre in Stoke and Key Properties' Kingsmead Centre in Farnborough have all received permission since the start of 2012 for either a cinema-led extension, or a reconfiguration of existing space to accommodate a cinema. Not to mention the plans submitted in February by Hammerson to develop almost 90,000 sq ft of leisure and restaurant space at Centrale, in Croydon.
Whilst these are only a handful of examples, they represent the major retail developers' recognition of how beneficial leisure space can be in a town centre scheme. On the surface, cinemas and bowling alleys, to use the survey's examples, are footfall-drivers and dwell-time boosters; but, crucially, they also offer at least an imitation of the social aspect of town centre shopping that has perhaps been lost through the proliferation of supermarkets.
If town centres are indeed to recover to the level we want them to, they have to provide something that is unattainable in out-of-town schemes or even on-line. This, regrettably, puts an arrow in the idea that the traditional high-street model can be revived, but it gives license to look towards a model that can ensure future success by driving shoppers into the centre of towns to engage in activities besides shopping.
Developers seem to have cottoned on to this notion - and perhaps it's time councils did too.