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Think tank calls on high streets to swap shops for offices

Too many city centres are over-dependent on retail and will have to replace them with offices, housing and public spaces if they are to survive, according to a new report.

The report by the think tank Centre for Cities said many high streets are struggling because they have too many shops and not enough space for other businesses.

For example, the report claims retail accounts for twice as much space as offices in many struggling town centres.

But it adds successful city centres have more than three times more office space than retail.

Moreover, the report shows that the high number of empty shops in struggling city centres reflects broader economic challenges they face. For example, the centres of Newport and Blackpool – where retail accounts for half of commercial space, but one in four shops are vacant – have also seen a decrease in jobs in recent decades.

In order to survive, it recommends city centres focus on creating a better environment for other firms – especially exporting firms in sectors such as ICT, legal services, insurance and marketing, which are increasingly important for boosting productivity and wages.

It adds that many high streets should also focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in.

For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in – which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes.

‘Each day seems to bring a new crisis for the high street, but the answer is not to double down on the declining retail sector,’ said Centre for Cities chief executive, Andrew Carter.

‘Instead, we need to reimagine struggling city centres as places where lots of different businesses can locate and create jobs – and where lots of people want to go to for a variety of reasons.

‘This means reducing the reliance on shops, and focusing on creating a more attractive environment for a wider range of firms. We also need to make our high streets more open and appealing spaces for people to spend time or live in, by improving public realm and transport links, and potentially introducing more housing,’ added Mr Carter.

‘Of course, repurposing high streets for other uses can be a difficult and costly process, and some cities will need investment from Government to support that transition. But it will be crucial in transforming the fortunes of our city centres, and the prospects of people living or working in them.’

To read the full report, click here.

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