What Does the Future Hold for Our Town Centres?

There’s no doubt, this is a tough time for our High Streets. The impact of lockdown, the change in customer’s buying habits, the rise and rise of online shopping as well as a general turn away from consumerism and wasteful manufacturing leave the 2020 shopping parade almost unrecognisable from just a few years ago.

You can trace the woes of the High Street back to the financial crash of 2008. The impact of internet shopping was already being felt and combined with the almost overnight freeze on lending, high rents and rates, increased wages and a huge drop in demand led to many old favourites disappearing – remember Woolies, Blockbuster, MFI, Zavvi, Threshers...?

What Has Happened to the High Street Since 2008?

Well since then things have become even tougher.

A report in July 2019 by The Guardian boldly predicted 53% of shopping will be done online by 2029. The Covid lockdown will accelerate that as people who previously shunned the web found that it had become essential to provide everything from food to entertainment, electronics to garden tools.

As Robert Luff explains “here in Worthing our town centre looks very different and we’ve escaped the worst of it – other areas have a much higher unoccupancy rate. But I’m hopeful, I think there could be some benefits.

Rob goes on “there is a massive housing shortage across the south east. Many shops had empty stock rooms and rear areas that with improved supply chains, now aren’t needed. The days of carrying stock in all sizes and colours has gone. This spare ‘brownfield’ space can be converted back to housing. That will create new homes for local people right where they are needed. Plus all of those new owners and renters will become customers of the nearby shops.

There’s no doubt, the former retail space is tempting for developers. Although conversion isn’t always easy, many shops were themselves converted from residential property in the early 1900’s so putting things back as they were, with up to date features like energy efficiency and soundproofing shouldn’t be too daunting for a determined construction company.

When will this happen?

Its already started” says Rob, “but I expect it will really begin to increase pace in early 2021 when, hopefully the worst of the Covid crisis will be behind us.