A report by the Centre for Cities thinktank has highlighted the link between strong city centres and the share of f&b as part of the wider high street mix.
The report shows that in those centres classed as ‘strong’, food, drink and leisure operators made up 24% of high street services. These areas tended to have an average of 9% vacancy rates. Meanwhile in those classed as ‘weak’, food and leisure made up just 15% of the mix, with an average vacancy rate of 16%.
The report says: “Given the ongoing changes in retail, it is likely that the high street will continue to move away from comparison goods towards items that cannot be bought online, such as leisure experiences or a meal out. Stronger city centres appear to be making this transition more successfully than weaker city centres. Again, this is likely to be an outcome of the performance of the city centre economy. While there may be a move towards a greater amount of retail spend taking place online, the pull of many thousands of people — residents, workers and visitors — into successful city centres still creates a market for business to sell to. It is the nature of what they sell that is changing. The challenge for weaker city centres is not the internet, but that unlike stronger city centres they lack the customer demand to make the shift away from retail.”
The report also cites a study into urban demographics, which shows that close proximity to restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities was the number one reason for residents in urban areas to choose where to live, above distance to their workplace.
It makes a number of recommendations for revitalising the high street, including giving cities access to the £38bn national productivity fund to allow them to focus on adapting the built environment of city centres to suit its changing role in society. The authors stress that this may lead to the overall square footage of commercial space being reduced but of higher quality.
The report also calls for exemptions to permitted development rights for England’s 55 largest cities and giving priority to improving the skills of city residents in order to attract higher quality businesses.