Northern towns are facing ‘seismic’ changes, with Covid-19 and lockdowns making a huge impact on the retail sector as shifting working patterns and social distancing measures becoming the norm for millions of people, according to research.
A study by consultant Lichfields says retailers continue to face significant challenges, notably the growth in online competition, out-of-town shopping centres, disproportionate business rates, and changing consumer habits.
An estimated 11,000 retail and leisure units disappeared from town centres last year, including more than 9,000 from such high-profile brands as Debenhams and Arcadia’s Top Shop and Burtons. But Northern towns are “fighting back” and showing “encouraging signs of early success”, notes the study.
Lichfields identified a package of funding streams used by local authorities, planners and policymakers to drive town centre regeneration across the north of England. This includes the £830 million Future High Streets Fund and the £3.6 billion Towns Fund.
Authorities are looking to transform towns and pull in more people by relocating health and wellbeing facilities closer to transport hubs, more town centre education facilities in vacant buildings, while tourism and heritage plans are being developed to attract visitors. They also see funding the development of buildings to accommodate new digital and creative industries and repurposing retail space as affordable and attractive living as critical to the future vibrancy and culture of towns.
“There are many positives on the horizon and our research points to a strong, vibrant and successful future for those Northern towns that take advantage of the funding streams and pursue exciting and innovative strategies designed to transform the heart and soul of our high streets,” said Lichfields’ Newcastle office director and the report lead author Jonathan Wallace.