The time to act to save our high streets is now, says veteran retailer Bill Grimsey. Grimsey has produced a second edition of his 2016 Grimsey Report and says that action must be taken to transform town centres into community hubs before lose their purpose altogether. He’s calling on government, through an online petition, to take action.
"The technology revolution that’s upon us right now is going to continue to seriously affect our high streets and town centres," says Grimsey in the Grimsey Review 2. "If we don’t act now, current models will no longer have any real purpose and be consigned to the dustbin of history. But if we recognise what technological disruption means to existing models and recalibrate our high streets and town centres so they are resilient to change then there are very good grounds for optimism."
As yet, however, he says there is "a lack of an independent evidence-based organisation in England and Wales to help towns recognise, react to and realise the opportunity that the current changes bring. There is a fundamental need for a scalable common methodology that will provide unique and different plans to give every high street and town centre the best possible chance to flourish. This time around we will push even harder to make this happen."
Four key findings have come out of the research, says Grimsey. He finds a need for towns to develop business plans focused on transforming their centres into "a complete community hub incorporating health, housing, arts, eduction, entertainment, leisure, business and office space as well as some shops", all alongside its own USP.
Local government leaders must involve stakeholders in developing a plan that answers the question of what that place stands for.
An independent body is needed to support and signpost existing innovation, pointing others towards it. But, says the review, local government and the "colossus" of business rates are both barriers towards achieving this, along with a lack of available finance.
For example, it says, the rateable value of House of Fraser’s flagship Oxford Street store from £5.73m to £9m in the 2017 rates revaluation, adding a further £1.62m to its business rates bill at the same time.
"This is just an extreme example of the rates rises, which are destroying or destabilising thousands of retail businesses up and down the country," said Grimsey.
These key findings underpin 25 recommendations from establishing a town centre commission for each town through to providing free public wifi.
Commenting on the recommendations, Jat Sahi, digital lead retail, EMEIA at Fujitsu, said: "The various closures and cutbacks that have dogged the high street lately demonstrate how retailers need to rethink their brick-and-mortar presence int he age of ecommerce. Consumers have become accustomed to the seamless convenience of shopping online, and this latest report underlines how some retailers have been unable to match that experience in-store.
"Designing town centres as community hubs could actually prove positive for retailers, as having such attractions nearer stores would very likely keep a retailer front-of-mind for consumers and make them more likely to be visited. Retailers will, however, need to prove their value if they are to compete with more varied tenants for their store space. This will require them to maximise their retail space to create an easy and delightful experience for customers."
The report is published a day after Saveourhighstreet.org published its 2018 manifesto calling for change.
Image courtesy of InternetRetailing Media