UK towns need to change thinking if they want to succeed, says Future High Street Summit

  • LDC/bira says shop vacancy rates down from 14.6% to 13.3% in last four years
  • Independent shops filling the gap left by chain stores on UK high streets
  • Over a third of high street leases to expire by end of year

The Future High Street Summit is urging high street stakeholders to think differently if they want to secure their place in the future, as recent trends show the town centre landscape is set to change dramatically over the next 12 months.

MSCI figures state that 43% of shopping centre leases and 37% of high street tenancies are due to expire by the end of 2015 – a worrying prospect after renewal rates plummeted to 9% less than two years ago. The prediction may mean that the recent trend of falling vacancy rates may reverse, and high street stakeholders need to realise that it’s increasingly unlikely that “big names” will continue to dominate town and city centres.

It is for that very reason that one of the opening sessions of the Future High Street Summit, which will be held in Nottingham on 25th and 26th March, aims to encourage delegates to adopt a new way of thinking when it comes to developing future strategies in their locality.

“The session on high street trends and insights is going to be highly thought-provoking,” says Clare Rayner, founder of the Summit. “The purpose of this event is to demonstrate how attendees can embrace the high street revolution, so they need to really understand the data and trends, and learn from the insights of the expert speakers, in order to appreciate how our high streets are evolving – however, what they discover may well be that their past assumptions and prior experiences are redundant in this fast-changing economy!”

The session will welcome experts from bira, Springboard Research and Zeta Economics, who will share their organisations’ latest findings, coupled with analysis of the data, so that the audience will better understand the value of benchmarking their area’s performance against the regional and national behaviours. As well as giving the audience much to reflect on, the session aims to trigger ideas and questions which keynotes throughout the two-day event will expand on and answer.

Clare continues, “It is my view that there is a disconnect between the ambitions of many ‘placemakers’, for instance to attract big name retailers to their towns, and the current trends, which indicate clearly that those big names are withdrawing from town centres at quite a pace, especially in smaller, market, and rural towns.

“Figures from LDC/bira show that high street vacancy rates have dropped a little; but the national averages mask the detail, which interestingly show that there has been a net gain in independents and a loss in multiples. To me it’s clear that smaller businesses and independent retailers are the ones who are keeping our high streets alive – so it is essential they get the support they need from the relevant authorities and place managers.”

Changing trends

The Summit is also urging those tasked with town centre management to recognise the profound shift in the retail mix over the last four years. Placemakers must encourage businesses that provide for the current and future needs and wants of the local community, and to accept that long-term occupancy of high street units by chain stores is already a thing of the past.

The three speakers participating in this segment of the Summit have their own views to add:

Diane Wehrle, Marketing & Insights Director at Springboard Research, comments, “The change in the number of types of outlet is a function of the difference in the use of the high street by consumers that has been brought about by the Internet. It is likely that multiples will rationalise their store networks, particularly in the light of the increase in the number of retail leases that are due to expire.

“However, when consumers do visit, they are making it more of an event, spending longer in the town centre and so demand greater diversity for something unique to make their trip an event, and therefore special, offering independents opportunities.”

Zifa Sadriyeva, Founder and Director of Zeta Economics, adds, “High streets are under increasing pressure from internet retailing, so a good mix of uses is essential to create differentiation, better shopping experiences and thus expand catchments.

“We could expect better prospects this year for restaurants, cafes and coffee shops if food price inflation will be as slow, or perhaps as negative, as the Bank of England is forecasting. Where the high street offer is well-balanced, retailers may benefit as a result.”

Michael Weedon, Deputy CEO of bira, says, “The apparent contradictions between the value of multiple retail and their ongoing store portfolio reduction on the high street highlights the significance of the problem.

“Springboard figures appear to show a small but consistent draining away of footfall from high streets and gains out of town. LDC/bira figures show consistent post-crash losses of multiples and net gains of independents in towns. The bottom line is, if placemakers want vacant units filled in town centres, they only realistically have the independent option.”

The Future High Street will be held at Nottingham Conference Centre within Nottingham Trent University on 25th and 26th March. For more information on the event and to see the full agenda, visit the Future High Street Summit website.

Tickets for the conference are on sale now and attendees can sign up at


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