Now is the time for Historic Towns to take a proactive approach to improving their retail offer. Figures released by BCSC in April show that there are 4,700.000 sq m of retail floorspace in the pipeline but a large percentage of this is in major developments in the top 100 towns and cities
More than ever, locations are competing to differentiate themselves and offer shoppers an enjoyable experience. Retail is the focus of these new developments but, different from previous decades, shopping is being designed with a new enthusiasm for quality of design, is embracing the concept of mixed uses and is providing the economic driver of deliverability and sustainability.
The problem with this is that smaller, historic locations, by standing still will be left behind and miss out on this opportunity. The economic success of our Historic Towns is fundamental to their long term performance and survival.
The new approach to design and layout of shopping centres is to consider a better integrated solution so that the proposed development not only supports itself but recognises that in smaller locations it is the performance of the whole town that is the key attractor. In doing this we must understand what retailers need - in coping with cost inflation and price deflation they need efficient and bigger floorplates. They cannot compromise on this as they need to compete and will simply go to other towns.
Local Authorities can deliver this by championing high quality design and supporting CPO processes to ensure the right projects are taken forward.
What shoppers want from towns is the same as they get from shopping centres - good access, cleanliness, security and a managed and varied shopping offer. In this regard significant steps are being taken to encourage independent traders as part of a managed tenant mix in an increasing number of locations.
Our Historic Towns possess one of the key requisites for future successful town centres - 'character'. A positive approach to new retail facilities, building on this, will give them an economic future too.
Andrew Ogg Managing Director of architects Leslie Jones and Past President of the British Council of Shopping Centres