Derby's Becketwell regeneration involves a mixed-use development

Ian Ferguson works with BIDs as a consultant for pfbb UK

More than 100,000 jobs have been lost on the high street in 2020

The half-demolished Broadmarsh Centre is a blight on Nottingham city centre

Rethinking the future of our town and city centres

In August, only 17% of workers had returned to city centres since lockdown began, according to mobile phone data analysed by the Centre for Cities. While no one quite knows what the future holds for these traditional hubs of commerce and activity in a post-Covid world, the one thing many people do agree on is they will never look quite the same as demand for retail and office space declines. Dan Robinson reports.

“If you even mention retail now as part of the town or city centre, you’re about 20 light years behind.” Ian Ferguson is unequivocal in his opinion – the future of the high street

is already a redundant topic. “Even pre-Covid, it was clearly recognised that retail wasn’t the main

driver to town and city centres,” he adds. “Analysts are saying we moved five years in the space of three months in terms of trends, and towns and city centres have got to adjust rapidly. “There’s significant change and, if landlords still think they can apply the

same rental formulas they had pre-Covid, they’re living in cloud cuckoo land. So the whole discussion has to be about the use of town and city centres going forward, in terms of what the make-up is both commercially and the way people use them for living, working and in leisure time.” The high street’s bleak future was one of the main talking points of 2019

in business, when chain after chain went bust and tens of thousands of jobs were lost. No one seems to be under any illusion now that it’s even worth throwing a life jacket. In Nottingham, there’s a huge concrete reminder of the impending death

of bricks and mortar retail in the half-demolished Broadmarsh Centre, which was left in such a state due to the collapse of shopping centre operator intu midway through a mammoth rebuilding job. Work stopped in June and the city council is yet to confirm its plans for

progressing the dormant site, but Ian – a consultant for business improvement districts (BIDs) as director of Derby-based Partnerships for Better Business Ltd (pfbb UK) – believes it could do worse than look to Huddersfield, of all places, for inspiration. Kirklees Council is preparing to tear down its 50-year-old Piazza Centre shopping complex and create a new park dubbed the “cultural heart” of the

46 business network October 2020

town for arts and leisure. In Sheffield, meanwhile, main roads in the city centre that were once straddled by shops are being dug up and replaced with flower beds. “There’s a requirement to rationalise retail in city centres,” says Ian.

“Cities like Nottingham should have been thinking radically anyway, but the pandemic has exacerbated the shifts that were happening.”

NEVER TRUER THAN in online shopping, which accounted for 32.8% of all retail spend in May – by comparison, it had increased its share by a single percentage point to 19.2% in the 12 months to September 2019 – and there’s expectations this could rise to half in three years.

‘Town and city centres are going to have to be very much focused on people living in them’

The Centre for Cities research unit had already identified, in 2017, how city

centres that were less dependent on retail and had a greater proportion of office space were far stronger economically than those with a high amount of retail. It said a “weak” city centre had, on average, 43% retail and 23% office – with the remainder consisting of leisure and industrial space – compared to 18% retail and 62% office in “strong” locations. Colin Wilde, managing director of Castle Rock Brewery, which runs 22

pubs across towns and cities including Nottingham and Derby, feels this mix is crucial to attracting visitors. “With online shopping, people don’t often need to go out to buy a pair

of shoes anymore, but they might go out if they want to turn it into an experience. So instead they might go out to buy some shoes, have a wander around, and then go for lunch.”

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