• Chris King

Focus on the High Street : Part 1

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

The High Street Red Herring: Uncovering the real reason for the High-Street decline

Part 1 of a series analysing the Scottish High Street.

At a glance

- In 2017 the rate of High Street store closures was higher in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK. Scottish High Streets lost 148 stores, a reduction of -4.48%, while the UK average was -2.57%.

- The performance of a city’s high street is tied to the overall strength of the city centre economy. (Centre for Cities, 2019)

- A city centre’s economy is affected by a variety of factors including access to skilled workers, business density, cost of property, and availability of high-quality office space.

Our analysis is based on data published in February 2019 by the Centre of Cities in City Centres – past, present and future.

Fingers often point to the rise of online shopping, the closure of city centre bank branches and big-name department stores, high commercial property costs and higher business rates. While these are all contributing factors to struggling high streets, they are largely red herrings that fail to identify the underlying cause of decline. Reducing business rates, offering incentives, or bringing in big name retailers, in isolation, will not reverse the fortunes of the high street. The focus should instead be on the right mix of businesses, including, bringing high-skilled businesses back into the city centre.

Mix & balance

There is a need to create a healthy business mix to ensure that the high street has a diverse range of enterprises that complement one another and encourage healthy growth. In research compiled by the Centre for Cities, there is shown to be a correlation between strong city centres and high streets with higher concentrations of office space vs retail space. This is illustrated in the graphic below.

As shown in the graphic above, when city centres become too heavily retail focused, their performance worsens, while those city centres which have the largest segment of floorspace as offices containing high-skilled companies perform better. While giving up floor space over to office space will mean less retail businesses, it means more people and footfall, which will improve sales and increase sustainability.

Bringing businesses back

With high-skilled businesses and firms moving from city centres, many high streets rely on weekend and holiday shopping surge periods to supplement the decreasing revenue throughout the working week. This restricts opportunities for high street businesses to attract out of town workers to their establishments during the week, relying on 2 days per week instead of all 7 days. For city centres that have proportionally more office space than retail space, there are more people, shoppers and footfall throughout the entire week. The focus should be luring more high-skilled businesses back into the city centre. To do this city centres not only require available office space, but quality office space. The quality of available office space in a town centre is an indicator of the historical commercial investment that has been made and how business friendly a city is. As a knock-on effect, this increases the attractiveness of a city centre to high-skilled businesses.

If this article has made you rethink your city centre development strategy, contact us for a free consultation to discuss your research and development needs and how we can help your city grow.

Strathearn Strategic Consulting


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