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City centres ‘must break reliance’ on retail, says think tank

Too many city centres across England and Wales are over-dependent on retail, and must swap shops for offices, housing and public spaces, according to a new report.

Research published by the think tank Centre for Cities with support from Capita, examined for the composition of commercial space in UK cities and the implications for local economies.

It warns that struggling high streets have too many shops, but not enough demand for commercial space from other businesses, or from other uses such as housing and leisure. In struggling city centres retail accounts for twice as much space as offices, whereas in their more successful counterparts, there is more than three times more office space than retail.

Moreover, the report shows that the high number of empty shops in struggling city centres reflects broader economic challenges they face. The report points to Newport and Blackpool where retail accounts for half of commercial space, but one in four shops is vacant.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Each day seems to bring a new crisis for the high street, but the answer is not to double down on the declining retail sector. Instead, we need to reimagine struggling city centres as places where lots of different businesses can locate and create jobs – and where lots of people want to go to for a variety of reasons.

Giulia Bunting, planning director at GL Hearn added: “The challenges facing our high streets and city centres are nothing new to those of us who work regularly in the retail sector. The need for strong, healthy town and city centres is clear, if they are to attract the footfall needed for our retail and leisure space to thrive.

“There is much that cities and the government can do to help support and bolster retail such as business rates reform. We should be levelling the tax playing field for physical stores and online operators as well as showing real leadership and support for the re-invention of places and introducing more flexible platform to harness new opportunities for regeneration/repurposing.”

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