As retail planning applications tumble, what does this mean for the high street?
As the world looks to assess more of the damage caused by the pandemic, figures have shown that planning applications for new stores in England have declined by 22%, with the historic city of York being the worst-hit – plummeting by 91%.
The research, conducted by law firm Boodle Hatfield, found the UK capital is also struggling, with City of London seeing bids for new shops and shopping centres fall by 59%.
Of course, much of the decline is in direct response to Europe-wide lockdowns, which caused footfall to almost disappear overnight as non-essential retail was forced to close. Add travel restrictions to the mix, which make it tough for landlords, tenants, and developers to meet and do business – and we are where we are now.
Yet, all is not lost. While some high street stores are indeed struggling, others have found new ways in which to innovate. We may have grown tired of hearing the word ‘pivot’, there are some who are setting the new standard.
Amazon’s new till-less grocery store in London highlights one of the ways in which our retail requirements may evolve – and goes some way to show us that the high-street isn’t ‘dead’.
As retailers continue to prioritise online channels, others are bringing a completely new look to towns and cities which we perhaps wouldn’t have imagined 12 months ago. Meanwhile, although applications may have dropped, developers continued to work on – and adapt – schemes which were already in progress.
At a time when, for the world over, conversations are being had about how ‘safe’ we are travelling into our towns and cities on public transport, stores are refusing to accept cash payments, and we continue to stare into the ‘unknown’ – we must work together to find a way to drive growth back into our streets.
Even prior to the pandemic, we had begun to see a new-look retail district emerging – and one which is built on the psychological motivations behind shopping. This is perhaps where efforts should be focused in the short-term – what is it that people miss?
Over the past decade or so, the rationale behind a ‘trip to town’ shifted from simply ‘making a purchase’, to enjoying a day out with friends and family. You only have to scroll through personal social media feeds to see how much others are craving a ‘day out with friends’.
In fact, the act of visiting shops has almost turned into a social event, with shoppers looking forward to browsing the shelves of stores, fitting in a trip to the hairdressers, and bookending the day with brunch and a few cocktails.
Therefore, although the figures from 2020 may, at first glance, look disheartening, we believe that once retail, hospitality, and leisure outlets are permitted to reopen – and public confidence in sharing spaces with others starts to return – independent outlets and big brands will join forces and encourage local investment, footfall, and socio-economic growth.
From experiential spaces to a hybrid physical-meets-digital approach, we needn’t pull the shutters down just yet.