Real Estate, Place Adaptation and Innovation
within an integrated Retailing system (REPAIR)
The retail industry in the UK is experiencing unprecedented structural change on the High Street, with increasing business failures, property vacancies and market instability. The global pandemic has also accelerated changes to consumer behaviour.
In response, researchers from UBDC and the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield and UCL conducted a mixed method study called Real Estate, Place Adaptation and Innovation within an integrated Retailing system or ‘REPAIR’.
The large-scale study investigated the changes experienced across the retail cores of five UK cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham – between 2000 and 2021 and concluded with 25 policy recommendations.
Changes in property uses have resulted from the demise of some traditional retail and the growth in more ‘service’ focused uses. There has also been a growth in independents and a willingness from landlords to let to independents, including within some purpose-built shopping centres, as they seek to adapt to changing circumstances and replace lost anchor tenants.
Other shopping centres have faced a more existential crisis and, in the most extreme cases, are being demolished and redeveloped, with some city centre transformations moving in the direction of mixed-use neighbourhood districts. Overall, while the case study retail cores now have a greater range of uses, they are not necessarily increasing in diversity. This is evident as emerging new uses are spread unevenly across the city centres.
Change of use extends to an increase in city centre living, including student accommodation, and this adds to richness and diversity and strengthens resilience. However, the parallel provision of public services for city centre residents has failed to keep pace. It is notable that, overall, change in use has not kept up with rising vacancy rates. Purpose-built shopping centres and former department stores are ‘difficult to adapt’ and while the repurposing of some former department stores is occurring, technical issues create higher redevelopment costs.
The study’s findings point towards the need for more intensive, ‘micro’ management of city centre properties (as assets), leases and the built environment generally. This includes the quality of the public realm, property accessibility and visibility, due to their impact on business viability and the handling of events in public space. Given the current policy impetus encouraging residential conversions, the findings suggest that current responses to city centre change are developing in an ad hoc manner rather than the change being managed.
Overall, after a period of retail dominating the case study centres in the early 2000s, the study saw a rise in retailer failure rates and greater property use change. Change of use implies multi-functionality and greater variation within our retailing centres and, while vacancies and challenges remain, this shift in use brings potentially greater resilience as the wider economic structure is less vulnerable to shocks.
Datasets held by UBDC used in the REPAIR study:
Allison M. Orr, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
Cath Jackson, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield
James T. White, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
Victoria Lawson, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
Alan Gardner, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
James Hickie, School of Management, University College London
Robert Richardson, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
Joanna L. Stewart, Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow