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Can the UK’s high streets
be rescued?

Can the UK’s high streets be rescued?

Published: 28th October 2019
Area: Real Estate & Planning
Author: Julian Joseph

It’s difficult to avoid hearing about the struggles of the UK’s retail sector, with new casualties being added to the list on a regular basis. The rapid growth of online retail, increasing overhead costs, and the need for modernisation has left the high street in a bad place, so is it possible to get the public to love these once-essential parts of daily life once more?

A simple rebrand is not enough – we’ve seen this from past attempts. Instead, creativity and innovation must be pushed to the forefront, with support from retailers, landowners, landlords and the Government itself.

Keeping things ‘human’

The high street’s ‘human’ element is something that online retail lacks, however, it is difficult to get this right. To be successful, landlords and tenants must build and maintain lasting relationships, creating a high street that is both harmonious and cost-effective. Of course, this is challenging, but it can be done.

Making the most of technology

Until recently, technological advancements appear to have passed the retail sector by. Similar to smart motorways, shops could use technology to accurately measure footfall. This would be a great indicator of which spots are most profitable, providing tenants with the opportunity to re-negotiate rental payments.

Making tax fairer

The tax disparities between small and large shops must be addressed. The playing field cannot be truly leveled until a fairer way to levy tax from retailers is created. Without this change, smaller operators will continue to struggle to compete with the big players.

Building to rent

Increasing numbers of build to rent developers has led to a rise in mixed-use B1 Class units. A mixed-use high street creates a variety of offerings including residential, shopping and leisure units. Introducing a WeWork-style franchise model could also change the functionality and use of the high street. Flexibility should be the focus.

Creating a simple lease template

To generate the support needed for the high street, partnerships and deal-making between landlords and tenants are vital. In these unstable times, tenants are often put off entering into contracts due to the lack of a standard form of lease. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all lease and rental template could help to regenerate the sector.

Reintroducing turnover rents

The reintroduction of turnover rents may be something that tenants would welcome. They used to be fairly commonplace in the UK and worked by linking payments directly to the financial performance of tenants. As a result, it was a fairer way to share the burden, no matter the economic situation.

It is clear that for the high street to survive, it must modernise and adapt. Although creativity is part of the solution, financial incentives must also be brought in that convince retailers to stay on the high street instead of moving online.

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