Calls for renewed identity for Britain's ailing high streets

Shoppers with carrier bags (Victoria Jones/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Bricks-and-mortar retail shops can no longer be the basis for thriving high streets, which must become community hubs that include housing, offices and some shops, according to an influential independent review.

Retail expert Bill Grimsey said it was time to accept there was already too much retail space in the UK.

He said town centres needed to be “repopulated and re-fashioned” with libraries and public spaces at the heart of each community.

The review is the second from a team led by the former Wickes and Iceland boss.

It comes amid a wave of closures and restructurings from major high street names including Toys R Us and Maplin and an ongoing shift to online shopping.

The review argues greater devolution and stronger local leadership is needed to give high streets a renewed sense of purpose and identity.

Here are some of the 25 recommendations

  • replace business rates

  • create a Town Centre Commission to develop a 20-year strategy for local high streets

  • accelerate digital transformation in smaller towns

  • the appointment of “high-quality” designers to celebrate the historic character and local identity of town centres

  • 30 minutes’ free parking in high streets with no paid extension option

  • improved street lighting

  • free public wi-fi

Mr Grimsey said there had been some progress since his original 2013 review “but not nearly enough”.

He said: “The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations and CVAs (company voluntary arrangements) for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown.

“Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history, which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21st century.

Poundworld fell into administration earlier this month, putting around 5,100 jobs at risk Credit: PA

Labour’s shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “Our high streets are facing some of the biggest challenges in recent history, but are being neglected by the Government.

“Since the first Grimsey Review, the Government has failed to stem the decline of our high streets and town centres, with 21,000 jobs lost in the first three months of this year alone.”