Town centers are here to stay – it’s time to make them fit for the 21st century Business

Q: With the news that Northampton has one of the worst vacancy rates in the UK, at 25%, what can councils do? Are there any quick fixes when it comes to empty bricks and mortar?

A: With each passing week, it becomes increasingly clear that the pandemic doomsayers have been wrong on the high street. Our sales and footfall have returned to pre-lockdown levels, life is picking up in city centers as commuters flock to offices, and there is no doubt that city centers will play an important role in the future of society.

There are vacant stores all over the UK, mainly because we have developed far too many retail premises over the past 40 years. In 1970 our shoe store on The Drapery, Northampton traded successfully, like most other retailers in town.

Most properties there are still standing, but occupants face additional competition from The Grosvenor and Weston Favell shopping malls, both built in the 1970s. Nearby, at least three bustling retail parks have opened, as well as several supermarkets, while Rushden Lakes, a successful retail development with 40 stores including Primark and M&S, is 15 miles down the road. It’s no surprise that there are so many vacancies in Northampton.

The county town is not alone: ​​too many shops have been built in Wrexham, Dartford, Northwich and on the outskirts of Rotherham. All of the country’s main streets have suffered from out-of-town retail, so the eruption of empty shops in Northampton is only partly due to an increase in online shopping; it is also due to the desire of property developers to develop new properties.

Well, I have good news for developers: there is still a lot to build, but now the focus is on creating a new type of downtown.

Originally, most towns had a thriving farmers’ market that attracted people from the surrounding countryside. Enterprising retailers opened stores to serve a captive audience (ever wondered why so many cities have a “Market Street”?). When I was a child, I remember cattle being auctioned off in the center of Kettering. This market has disappeared, but the shops remain.

Cities today need a different community focus – a set of things that can only be done face-to-face: entertainment, cafes, medical services, hairdressers, leisure facilities, counseling centers and, of course, a key cutting workshop.

These essential services will create an active social hub, especially if some old businesses are converted to residential use. This dynamic activity will attract more merchants, revitalize our city centers and provide an ideal environment for new, innovative and enterprising merchants.

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This notice was published: 2022-02-27 13:00:00

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