Town centre regeneration – briefing paper

This October 2021 briefing paper focuses on the key trends, challenges, and policy discussions surrounding high streets in Great Britain. It covers issues such as vacancy rates; retail and consumer trends; the impact of Covid-19; government policy to support high streets; business rates and taxation; planning issues; and 'ingredients' to become a successful town centre.

Date added 24 November 2021
Last updated 24 November 2021

This October 2021 briefing paper focuses on the key trends, challenges, and policy discussions surrounding high streets in Great Britain. It begins by providing some key statistics regarding high street activity, some of which are outlined below:

  • In March 2020, around 1/3 of property on British high streets belonged to retail shops, though with some regional variations (i.e. London has a higher proportion of residential properties on the high street).
  • In 2018, jobs on the high street represented 14% of employment in Britain, with high street retail jobs declining 2015-2018.
  • 2020 saw the biggest increase in high street vacancies since 2013, rising from 11.7% to 13.7% (2017-2020).

Next, the report outlines some of the key trends and challenges high streets and town centres are currently facing, including:

  • The rise in online shopping
  • Too much retail space on our high streets
  • Fragmented property ownership
  • High costs of business rates and rent; and
  • High and inflexible rates of taxation.

The authors recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the above challenges for high streets (e.g. online shopping), in addition to creating some new ones they now also need to contend with (e.g. working patterns). The report also identifies a trend towards more shopping on local high streets, with some evidence this may continue post-pandemic, in addition to independent stores faring better than chains. In order to become more resilient in the future, the report suggests that high streets become more multi-functional, offering more than just retail shopping, as well as retailers adapting to become more innovative in the face of rising online shopping, through new store formats.

The report also explains the government policy currently supporting UK high streets, including: The Future High Streets Fund; The High Streets Task Force; Heritage Action Zones; Scottish Town Centre Fund; The Transforming Towns Scheme (Wales); The Towns Fund; The Community Ownership Fund; and Levelling Up Fund. Before providing in-depth discussions of challenges around business rates, online sales tax, use classes and other planning policies.  

Finally, short case studies of successful institutions, high streets, and town centres are provided, including Altrincham and Stockton-on-Tees, alongside tips to become a more resilient centre, which other places could take inspiration from in high street transformation.