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The Future Shape of the High Street

17th December 2018

With Christmas almost upon us, many of us less prepared people will be frantically buying up last minute gifts for the loved ones in our lives. Online shopping provides the ultimate form of convenience, whatever the occasion, and as Christmas delivery dates continue to be extended, the greatest gifts are more accessible than ever. Better yet, you don’t have to brave the winter weather to get your hands on them! As shopping online becomes easier and easier, thoughts turn to our nation’s high streets. So, where does the rise and rise of online shopping leave high streets based up and down the country?

What the latest stats say about our high streets

The crisis facing our high streets is no secret. The plight of our bricks and mortar stores has been heavily publicised in recent years and the latest statistics relating to what used to be a key space for our country’s economic growth don’t shed the best light on our high streets either.

According to the Grimsey Review 2 - an independent study commissioned by former Wickes and Iceland chief executive Bill Grimsey - 28,000 jobs within the retail sector have been axed so far in 2018. Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there; the review also estimated that a further 40,000 roles will disappear as the year comes to a close. These findings could mean as many as 100,000 stores will close within the next 10 years, a worrying prospect for business owners, retail staff and shoppers alike.

Even the biggest brands have fell victim to the high street cull, with Poundland, Maplin and Toys R Us just some of the household names that have ceased trading in recent months. The latest victim is House of Fraser who recently announced that it would be closing just over half of its UK stores. These store closures would result in the loss of approximately 6,000 retail jobs.

Our high streets must change to survive

The high street was once synonymous with the revival of many British towns and cities. However, with the latest statistics, retail stores can no longer be hailed the saviours of struggling town centres. Even at Christmas, retail stores are experiencing reduced footfall as those with busy lives turn to online shopping to save the day. Whilst the future shape of our high streets remains unclear, particularly as Brexit promises to alter the wider face of British business, one thing is for certain, something has to change!

The Grimsey Review 2 suggests a number of steps that could be taken to revive the great British high street, many of which don’t rely on high street shops pursuing retail. The recommendations also include overhauling troublesome business rates, a system that prevents many businesses, both fledgling and established, from turning a profit as soon as they open their doors. Business rates are just one of the factors that have been attributed to the decline of the high street with some half a million shopkeepers, pub landlords and restaurateurs having no confidence in the current business rates system at all. Grimsey himself calls business rates an “outdated and unfair tax” that has “accelerated shop closures in many towns”. The banning of out-of-town developments is another route suggested to save the British high street. 

The remodelling of the high street into more of a community hub is what the review really focuses on. A space for not just retail but housing, leisure, entertainment, education, arts and commercial offices, the new and improved high street would be more than just a place to buy goods.