The Future of Retail and Town Centre Regeneration

This morning we attended the CREation Property Network breakfast event, hosted by DLA Piper in their Manchester office on St Peter’s Square, to discuss the future of town centres and sustainable regeneration strategies. The event welcomed a strong panel of industry experts including:

  • Caroline Baker: Head of the Manchester Cushman & Wakefield office and Partner in the Development and Planning Consultancy team. Caroline specialises in high street/town centre regeneration consultancy and shared solution-based advice regarding the issues facing the high street.
  • Chris Taylor: Director and owner of Gran Ts Coffee House in Altrincham. Chris is a successful businessman offering a tenant’s perspective on what works for keeping the high street alive.
  • Toby Sproll: Retail Director at Bruntwood. Toby shared details on Bruntwood’s Hatch concept, designed to attract aspiring entrepreneurs and established traders looking to try something new.
  • Andrew McIntosh: Investment Director at Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Andrew provided insights into the investment and funding aspects of town centre regeneration projects across the region.

The great benefit of these events, I find, is the diverse mix in the panel and therefore the interesting discussion and varied points of view. Whilst the topic of discussion largely centred around driving town centre regeneration, one of the most interesting points raised was how retail has evolved: whilst previously the sector was driven by the large conglomerate brands, now it’s being steered by smaller independent and local businesses.

As an independent retailer who has faced countless challenges and successes, Chris provided an interesting insight into Altrincham’s high-street and the numerous barriers facing emerging brands and local businesses to gain a foothold in the market. Chris has witnessed first-hand numerous brands fighting and failing to establish themselves and discussed how the reliance on online shopping has been a key barrier for new brands. To attract, engage and build a loyal consumer base, Chris talked about how retailers must stand out and make their offering truly unique, and how crucial it has been to Gran T’s success to work with the local community to build brand awareness and reputation.

Toby reinforced Chris’s comments and shared Bruntwood’s partnership approach, striving to build something long-term and sustainable, and not just for the stakeholders in the building, also for the surrounding community. For Bruntwood’s retail side of the business, Hatch and Affleck’s Palace, the primary goal is to provide great quality for customers (tenants) and curate the portfolio in a way that matches tenants’ needs whilst building something the local community can benefit from. He said creating a sense of ownership, partnership and community are key – and this is when it becomes more than just a transactional experience for customers, and you really can’t buy that online.

Caroline discussed the regeneration of town centres and how crucial it is to consider and tailor the approach to the individual town. For towns like Altrincham, it already had the demographic and it was about providing the vibrancy in the retail offering. For those town centres that don’t have footfall, Caroline’s team advise local authorities to create it by developing residential to get more people living, working and spending in these town centres.

Andrew shared how, for many investors, taking the speculative leap into developing property in an area that is ‘up-and-coming’ can be seen as a big risk. However, increasing rents in cities and upgraded amenities such as the Metrolink is encouraging people to move into these towns and suburbs, increasing the sustainability of town centres. Over the last 10 years, in South Manchester alone, there has been an abundance of investment – which is still ongoing – transforming the towns into destinations where people now aspire to live, work and spend their leisure time.

Altrincham is a fantastic example of this: the town has undergone a massive transformation and gone from ghost town to High Street of the Year in 2018. But this adaptation must continue – given the wealthy catchment and rising success, some businesses are inevitably being priced out by investment led landlords, with rent rising in one case by 55%. For this local business, unfortunately, the ending seems almost unavoidable, but as Toby rightly pointed out, long-term it is these landlords who will likely be caught out with empty property.

Bruntwood has adopted a successful partnership approach to the landlord and tenant relationship, offering highly flexible leases and turnover rents for retailers, shouldering much of the risk and lowering the barriers to independent retailers. He believes this is an evolution which will gradually take hold of the wider market, including the smaller, investment-led landlords mentioned above. The balance of power is now far more shared and rather than retailers being ‘a scared passenger in a runaway train’, it has to be about partnership to create something sustainable. The key to this approach is a strong relationship with tenants and Bruntwood are championing this, offering support in driving marketing, sales and footfall.

Retailers also have to adapt, tenants are having to be creative with their offering and as multifaceted as possible to maintain profit margins. Chris discussed how Gran T’s also offers space for events and movie nights to drive additional revenue, whilst building a connection with the community. In a live audience poll this message was strengthened, with 76% voting for mixed-use as their preferential use of town centre space – versatility is key!

The closing remarks from Caroline which were echoed by Toby were that town centres need to find their ‘why?’, their USP, then build an approach to compliment this. Local consumers want independent retailers and experiences they can’t get online so, like Bruntwood, strategies need to be implemented that lower the barriers to entry for retailers and drive the vibrancy and versatility of communities and neighbourhoods.

Thankyou CREation and DLA Piper for a fantastic event and the thought-provoking and insightful discussions.

CREation is an inclusive network which aims to join like-minded people together at the start of their career in property. Today’s event was one of their regular networking opportunities to gain insights and network with industry peers.

A final message…

CREation member Gaby Haugh, Graduate Surveyor at Colliers, shared the Grad team’s annual charity initiative to raise money and awareness for Mental Health UK. This year, 37 Colliers’ Grads are cycling from London to Amsterdam in September, covering 165 miles in two days. Please sponsor this worthwhile cause by visiting:

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