The Grimsey Review: An alternative future for the high street

Published in 2013, the first Grimsey Review remains essential reading for anybody interested in transforming high streets and town centres. Based on an in-depth review of evidence and data, 31 key recommendations about how high streets can be transformed for the better are provided. Three overarching conclusions, which the report is structured around, are drawn: high streets as multifunctional hubs; the need for radical government action; and the importance of local authority plans, visions, and partnership working.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

Published in 2013, the first Grimsey Review remains essential reading for anybody interested in enhancing the vitality and viability of high streets and town centres, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated longstanding challenges such places have faced. In the backdrop of continuing store closures and empty shops, a review of evidence and data was conducted by a team of high street experts, led by Bill Grimsey. Based on this review, 31 key recommendations are provided which can be further grouped into three main conclusions, which the report is structured around, and are summarised below.

Three main conclusions

1. High streets as multifunctional hubs

Owing to wider structural pressures such as out-of-town and multi-channel retailing, the rise in online shopping, and a growing tech-savvy consumer, the authors stress that high streets and town centres should move beyond an over-reliance on retail. An idea of the ‘networked’ high street becomes important, whereby “...we need to increase the number of mutual connections between the nodes or network participants (retail, services, local government, job centres and all others). The more mutual connections, the more adaptive the high street network becomes...” (p. 17). Here, the high street is (re)imagined as a networked community hub, “...incorporating; health, housing, education, arts, entertainment, business/office space, manufacturing and leisure...” (p. 5), as well as retail.

2. Government action and business rates review

The authors call for the government to put in place radical actions to improve the future prospects of high streets and town centres, in order to “...create a level playing field which will provide conditions for town centres to facilitate change, encourage local investment, cutting through red tape and providing a common set of measures to track performance” (p. 5). Specifically, the report suggests that business rates systems are made more flexible, and local authorities help to foster a more ‘business-friendly’ culture, especially for SMEs.

3. Local authority partnerships, visions, and performance monitoring

The report advises that local authorities engage further in partnership working, produce evidence-based business plans and visions, and monitor performance. Specifically, they call for every local authority to form a Town Centre Commission, that regularly shares best practice, produces a 20-year plan sensitive to the locality, and enables more flexible planning systems. As the authors observe, “there are many examples of the benefits that a clear strategy and positive plan have delivered in establishing and retaining a vibrant town centre...successful town centre projects have not all been retail led... a range of measures including the provision of community services, active management and promotion, quality public realm, better access to transport; housing growth and improvements in community safety all have an impact on creating a vibrant centre” (p. 36).

These recommendations help to steer high streets and town centres towards future transformation, since (p.4):

“One thing is certain. The high street landscape has now irrevocably changed and there is no point clinging on to a sentimental vision of the past. We have to start planning for a bold new world”.

For more Grimsey reports:

To read the Grimsey Review 2, please see here.

To read the Build Back Better Covid-19 supplement, please see here.