Tim Bradford, Managing Director at PAI member Banks Long & Co, claims that re-purposed high streets/city and town centres are today one step nearer reality, as shoppers and tourists demand a more diverse experience in the future:
City and town centres are poised for a major shake-up as the heady days of all-out consumerism are superseded to meet peoples’ demand for a more diverse and exciting shopping and visitor experience, it is claimed.
But Banks Long & Co Managing Director Tim Bradford believes the “new normal”, Post Covid-19, will produce good opportunities for businesses prepared to adapt.
It is only a few months since he wrote about structural changes in town and city retail property markets, comparing those movements to the industrial revolution in Victorian times.
In a nutshell, Tim said 2019 was the year of the Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), when Lincoln and other UK destinations lost many well-known retail names from the High Street. Now retailers are being challenged by an emerging “new normal” where the traditional shopper is looking for much more.
“Sadly, 2020 will be remembered for Covid-19. Within retail, the impact of the lockdown will bring changes to this sector which will reshape the way town centres operate for decades to come. That raises serious questions,” said Tim.
“Could there be a positive to come out of such a negative event? Was the well-established town centre retailing model already broken to the point where it simply could not be repaired? Structural change had set in and Banks Long & Co was predicting that, over a three-to-five years period, town centres would be unrecognisable. Landlords would need to rethink their approach to owning shop property and their relationships with their tenants.
“Covid-19 has effectively accelerated the inevitable demise of the post-war High Street model. We are now entering the post Covid-19 period; a period which we would have reached through a slow and painful process in the absence of the horrific worldwide pandemic.
“Some commentators, including myself, could argue that this is a “positive.” Whilst the next six-to-12 months will see an exaggerated repositioning within our much loved High Streets – centres which grasp opportunities for change, by re-purposing, looking ahead and embracing what will be the “new normal”, will be those where investment will quickly return and tenants will thrive by working hand-in-hand with their Landlords.”
One of the world’s most successful investors Warren Buffett, once said: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
“In my opinion, the tide is as far out as it could be in modern day free-market terms. Lots of businesses, many retailers and food and beverage companies will be lost. Business will return, but towns and cities will look different,” said Tim.
“In Lincoln, for more than five years now, Lincolnshire Co-operative has recognised the direction of the tide. Rather than investing for the short term, the Society’s strategy has been to invest for the long term. The success of the Cornhill Quarter, Lincoln, www.cornhillquarter.co.uk, is testament to the emerging new shape of our city centres.”
Banks Long & Co, which is surrounded by a group of like-minded advisors to the Co-op, has been fortunate to be part of the regeneration of Lincoln’s Cornhill and Sincil Street areas. Before Covid-19, the scheme was being referenced as an example of the new dawn when it comes to the re-purposing of town centres.
“Open air, attractive street frontages, quality public realm and a mix of quality occupiers, who bring an added and varied dimension to the town centre visitor experience, are key. Attracting the likes of Everyman Cinema, The Botanist, Seasalt, 200 Degrees Coffee, Flying Tiger, Neon Sheep - and the shortly to open Whistles, Hobbs and Phase Eight - has been an achievement which, coupled with small independent traders, will allow The Cornhill Quarter to continue expanding beyond Covid-19,” said Tim.
So, with 200 Degrees Coffee re-opening its doors in The Cornhill Quarter, what might the future look like? Shoppers’ familiarity with online services will increase the impact of online retailing on bricks and mortar businesses, but Tim is confident that while companies’ floorspace requirements will reduce, traders embracing the principle of “remote consumption” will continue to have a place on the High Street.
“I say this because the consumer will move away from their hunger for more, more, more and begin to appreciate the quality of the overall experience. Town centres should seek to provide a theatre which plays to all of our senses,” said Tim.
“It will not just be about “click and deliver” or “click and collect”. The consumer will also want to improve their experience by dealing with quality traders who understand their audience. People will want to eat and drink in a wide range of different establishments and, once we are able to do so, to spend time with friends.
“Town centres have a key role to play in stitching back together the social fabric of this country. Landlords and tenants must unite. Centres will inevitably contract, but they will become the home for a population keen to grasp an ethical and sustainable way of life.
“Living, working and socialising within walking distance of a main centre will become more attractive to an age group which understands the need for society to become much more environmentally aware.
“Consumerism will be replaced by the provision of a quality diverse experience. As I said in 2019, “the High Street is dead – long live the High Street!”, added Tim.