A revamp of shopping centres would stop towns becoming ghost towns

The drop in retail sales in August reported by the British Retail Consortium this week can be attributed to a number of things. The Olympics, subdued consumer confidence, the rising cost of living to name but three reasons to be less than cheerful. Another I’d add is the lack of care and attention that is offered to in-town shopping centres throughout the UK.

Russell Parsons

The Financial Times recently featured an article about a local dispute that had led to Nottingham’s city centre Broadmarsh shopping centre being denied the money needed to carry out much needed repairs and upgrades.

Broadmarsh is an extreme example but there are countless city centre shopping centres in provincial towns and cities nationwide that have seen little to no improvement since they were first erected in the 1960s and 70s. My own home town, Leeds, has three centres that carry the same décor as the day they were born, while a Google search finds calls for a makeover of shopping centres in Newcastle, Luton and Liverpool by disgruntled locals.

Vacancy rates in these “secondary” shopping centres are dropping, according to the Local Data Company. Almost one in seven British shops are vacant, LDC says, with town centre shopping centres accounting for a chunk of those. Gloomily, LDC adds: “For the high street, and especially for secondary shopping centres, it is clear that the current high levels of vacancy are likely to remain.” Empty shops do not make for a welcoming atmosphere.

Out of town shopping centres, especially newer developments such as Westfield, have confounded the problem making already tired centres look comatose. There is also the problem that all retailers are having to cope with, online shops.

As for regeneration, few of the companies that own these centres have the same luxury afforded to the owner of the Pallasades Shopping Centre in Birmingham, which this week announced it would be rebranded Grand Central Birmingham as part of multi-million overhaul.

Changes can be made, however, that will not break the bank. Beyond a lick of paint here and there, encouraging independent boutique shops to setup shop to create a market style space alongside leisure outlets such as coffee shops, for example.

A little imagination by the centre’s owners and a little flexibility on the part of the local authority on planning permission could spark renewed interest in what are increasingly becoming positively ghost like, testaments to a vision of retail’s future as seen 40 years ago.

If these centres are to exist then they need a reason to be other than just being a short-cut through to something more appealing. They take up a significant amount of space in town centres already struggling under the weight of low consumer confidence in the age of austerity, it would be preferable if they didn’t look like eye sores from a bygone era.

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