A former retail chief has warned that British town centres are in danger of becoming ‘ghost towns’ if immediate action isn’t taken.
Bill Grimsey, who previously headed up Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, suggested that town centres can no longer rely solely on shops and should instead become ‘community hubs’ if they are to flourish.
Mr Grimsey launched a report on the future of town centres and high streets on Wednesday.
He told the BBC: “Forget retail for town centres, they need to become community hubs based on health, education, entertainment, leisure and arts and crafts.”
The influential report argued that it was time to accept that there is already too much retail space in the UK and that town centres need to be re-fashioned with libraries and public spaces at the heart of the community.
It comes amid a raft of high street closures and restructurings in a difficult retail environment.
One-time high street stalwarts including Maplin, Carpetright and Toys ‘R’ Us have borne the brunt of the damage, while certain sectors like niche restaurants have expanded.
High streets in the North West have been rocked by closures. Anchor Marks and Spencer stores have closed in Stockport, Warrington and Denton.
Last month, House of Fraser confirmed it intends to close its Rackhams store in Altrincham, as well as 30 other stores across the country.
Meanwhile, Poundworld’s decision to enter administration puts all of its 300-plus stores at risk.
Mr Grimsey published his original report in 2013 after he disagreed with a report published by retail expert and TV star Mary Portas.
His 2018 report cites the growth of out-of-town shopping centres as the key challenge for town centres.
One of the reasons these sites are more popular is because they offer shoppers free parking. But, Grimsey says, free parking is not enough to incentivise shoppers back to the nation’s high streets.
He said: “The point is that the retail proposition in town centres has been overtaken by the more convenient out-of-town parks. The town centres should say ‘let them have it’.
“In my generation as retailers, we successfully cloned every town in Britain so they all looked the same, but clearly that doesn’t work.
“All the towns have a heritage and history and their reason for uniqueness needs to be brought to the fore.”
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