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Retail Design Expo 2015: Ambition needed to boost town centres

Betting shops, charity shops and pound shops are killing off high streets, and retailers must come together reverse the decline of town centres urges Tim Greenhalgh, chairman and chief creative officer at design agency Fitch.

Speaking about the role of retail in revitalising urban areas at Retail Design Expo 2015, Greenhalgh says that retail design has the power to create vibrant communities but current thinking is leading to drab, empty high streets rather than hubs that draw in local people.

He warns that relying on the budget stores to fill empty retail units it not the answer to saving the high street. “I’m worried that what we’re getting is the degradation of towns rather than the enlivenment of towns, “ he says.

Current trends such as a move towards local shopping should be driving better design thinking, he adds: “What we have been seeing from 2012 going forward, is that all these out-of-town shopping centres were no longer offering an advantage to retailers.

“We were voting with our feet, and choosing to shop more often and more frequently so bigger formats were no longer an advantage for businesses. Retailers are coming back to town rather than out-of-town.”

The key to turning around empty high streets is to think about co-creating spaces with a range of stakeholders including local people, independent and bigger retailers, property developers, as well as service providers, he says. “We should be thinking about how we create places for citizens not consumers.”

The Mary Portas The Future of High Streets progress report commissioned by the current government agrees, and states that “the successful high streets of the future will be where people live, use services, and spend their leisure time, including in an evening economy, as well as shop”.

Since the original report was commissioned in 2011, the government has set up a multi-million pound High Street Innovation Fund to attract new businesses to town and city centres.