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Importance of the social experience


For town centres to panic about the perceived threat of online retailing will do no good at all. On the contrary, they have the potential to become stronger experiential destinations, in many respects as a direct consequence of the rise of internet retailing, which makes us focus on the ingredients that underpin their success. Each town centre is unique,

and must offer a great deal more than just retail. It must be masterplanned to deliver a composite offer in an architectural form that provides a natural sense of place, unique to its location, yet composed to offer timeless spaces and places for the benefit of the community. Of fundamental importance

is how our town centres are managed, as it is this that makes the difference between failure and success.

Our town centres should

learn from the likes of Westfield and Value Retail, where constant churn is ongoing to ensure they move forward with time to satisfy their customers’ evolving requirements. The reality is that our towns

and city centres must focus on providing what the internet cannot. Research by the BCSC predicts that only 25% of retail sales will be online by 2020. Those retailers/services that

cannot compete with the internet will naturally fall by the wayside – travel agencies, for example – and there is little we can do to prevent this. However, what our town

centres can deliver is a social experience that isn’t necessarily just about shopping. Of course, retail will always

be a core driver in bringing people to a town centre, but social experiences blended with retail create a rounded offer that makes the difference. It all comes down to

Customers queue in underwear only at the Desigual sale

delivering an enjoyable experience for the customer, in a location they feel part of and have a loyalty to. In times of economic

uncertainty, many of the old design-related chestnuts are

debated ad nauseam, especially: should retail schemes be covered? As a well-known retailer

said to me recently, if the offer is right, people will even queue in the rain for a bargain!

High streets poised for regeneration


There has been much doom and gloom over the past couple of years focused on the decline of the high street, as retailers have fallen one after another into administration. It came as no surprise to

hear the vocal opposition from some quarters, mainly independent retailers and pressure groups, who blame the sparkly new-fangled shopping centre that opened down the road for their decline in footfall and seemingly inevitable failure. However, most outside the

industry miss the fact that these retail developments have been the catalyst for further private investment locally. Indeed, if you look past the sensationalist local press and

scratch below the surface, you will find that their presence is often a major contributor to bolstering the high street – creating jobs, bringing critical mass and attracting new money into the local economy. In a relatively new trend,

financial joint ventures between developers and local authorities have helped to deliver many new schemes that would otherwise have remained on the shelf. This collaborative approach,

which is underpinned by the Local Government Finance Act 2012, also assists with improvements to local infrastructure and high streets, and one would hope that it will further encourage public and private investments in retail regeneration projects throughout the country. More recently, as part of the

LGF Act, a new business rates retention system has been implemented, enabling local authorities to keep a proportion of business rates growth in their local area. Crucially, the government

excluded ratable value increases from the retention scheme, so councils will stand to benefit only if they approve new projects – another catalyst for development. In addition, the LGF Act also

allows local authorities to apply for tax increment financing, enabling them to borrow money for new developments against anticipated business rates arising from the new development. This is an absolutely vital

financing mechanism for regeneration projects, as it fills the funding gap for public infrastructure that most private developers are often

unwilling or unable to provide the equity for. Regardless of the financial

incentive involved for local councils, it is hugely important to work closely together on a scheme that is not only going to suit the wider community, but will also utilise both parties’ valuable experience and knowledge to improve and regenerate the area for generations to come. I believe that as long as

retailers promote cutting-edge concepts and embrace this omni-channel world with a robust business strategy rather than simply putting all their eggs in one basket, then these new or refurbished developments will serve as the platform that helps them succeed, kick-starting more private investment to regenerate the UK’s ailing high streets.

Summer 2013 7


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