Watch Carole Green's report
Bricks and mortar retail has undergone unprecedented change in the last 5 years with familiar anchors of our towns and city centres going bust or pulling out.
The decrease in the number of physical shops is mirrored by an increase in the amount we spend online.
This shift was already well underway before Coronavirus but has been quickened by the Pandemic.High street vacancies in Wales stand at nearly 1 in 5 shops, our shopping centres are faring even worse with 1 in 4 vacancies.
There is simply too much retail space for demand and this is unlikely to change.
Local authorities will need to look at planning and how this extra space can be used creatively - beyond retail. Otherwise, the depressing gaps will persist and drag down our town centres. We’re likely to see more former retail space converting to leisure, housing and green space, or “Green Infrastructure” - so important to people post-pandemic and in a Climate Emergency.
This shift is already underway. The number of new business start-ups in Wales is outperforming all other areas of the UK with an increase of 31% in quarter one of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to the Development Bank of Wales.
Denbighshire Council is adding to the housing mix by building luxury flats with small retail units below in the gap left by Next on Rhyl High Street. All in an effort to create a new vision and breathe new life into our High Streets.Among the challenges, there are some positive trends and High Street winners.
Staying local has meant many of us have rediscovered what’s on our doorstep as local shops and services kept us going through Lockdowns.
Now there is an opportunity for our high streets to build on that momentum.These success stories are focused on the smaller town centres where the turn around task has not been so mammoth.
Prestatyn High Street - one street packed with a range largely of independents - has been voted the best in the UK. Ruthin too, an historic centre is in the UK’s top 10. In south Wales, Treorchy and Barry high streets have been leading the way.What’s their secret? Building loyalty, a sense of local community and good service all play their part. Crucially blending a physical store with an online presence reaps rewards.Other high streets though are still struggling to find a new purpose, a fresh identity and attract footfall.
In an attempt to kick start Retail recovery, the Welsh Government has announced a £110 million pounds 'Transforming Towns' fund.
In north Wales, one initiative, delivered through 'Enterprise Hub' is offering £10,000 to new businesses starting up in four towns: Wrexham, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Bangor.
These were the retail “go to” towns for locals and visitors. However, they’ve all seen shoppers switch to online, or choose to spend their time and money in rejuvenated smaller high streets packed with retail and leisure independents.For the four north Wales towns receiving funding, breaking up some of the larger retail units will be key.
New businesses need smaller spaces to try out their ideas, goods and services. Filling the large gaps left behind by the chain stores won’t be easy, but the golden hello together with the training available in running a business, just might be the shot in the arm our ailing high streets need.