The British high street appeared to be thriving when I was growing up with new local shopping centres cropping up in most medium sized towns. With continued population growth, the concept expanded in to the now common American-style out of town malls, such as The Mall at Cribbs Causeway.
I remember when it was being built and as major retailers began to relocate from Broadmead in Bristol city centre, people were asking at the time “will John Lewis and M&S work out there?”
Only five miles from the centre of a major city and yet the unfamiliar concept in the region had people questioning whether it would work.
It has of course worked and is now recognised as one of the top shopping malls in the UK along with the more recently opened Cabot Circus, giving wider Bristol two excellent major shopping destinations.
But how long can this retail model continue and what will happen to the smaller shopping centres if retailers can’t sustain their businesses with the associated overheads and in the wake of competition from web based sellers?
Bespoke, specialist retailers as well as some butchers and bakers appear to be doing well in some areas where people will pay a small premium for excellent quality, but in other towns rows of abandoned shops have become an eyesore and larger malls could ultimately go the same way without adapting to the way people shop today, so we need to radically rethink some of the high street and secondary retail precincts across the country.
The internet has changed various areas of the property industry, but using some big-box retail units as fulfilment centres could be one way of making use of space which is often very well located, not just for retail but also for distribution.
In most towns the need for new homes is overwhelming and in my opinion councils generally need to accept change of use to residential from retail where the demand for retail really isn’t sustainable.
Just as office space has been adapted to residential, retail can be too, but the balance between creating housing and creating places people actually want to live in is key to the long term success of a community.
With more people living in urban areas than ever before it’s important to retain retail where possible to maintain a healthy mix of uses, but it has to be realistically viable.
Avoiding out of town ‘ghost malls’ (it’s worth googling “American Ghost Malls”) by overdevelopment of what might soon be redundant retail space and future proofing developments for possible conversion at a later date is a key factor in modern design. It might not be a case of out of town so much as out of date!