AAG 2022: Retail decline and the fate of the urban shopping centre in UK city centres

Event Start Date:
28th February 2022
Event End Date:
28th February 2022
Event Venue:
Planning in Metropolitan Areas, Virtual Session, AGG, 25 FEB-1ST March, New York, USA

Retail decline and the fate of the urban shopping centre in UK city centres

 AAG 2022, New York, USA

Dr James T White [1], Dr Allison M Orr [2] and Dr Victoria Lawson [3]


The struggles faced by UK city centres is well documented. Unsustainable operational costs, online technology, changing consumer habits and the pandemic have driven surging vacancies. Shopping centres or ‘malls’ are typically found close to UK high streets and because of their size and fortress-like design present a particularly complex real estate and urban design conundrum. A successful shopping centre can generate significant footfall and bring vitality to a city centre. However, when they fail, the impacts are felt over a wide area. Dead frontages appear, precipitating retail flight and leading to a rapid decline in the surrounding area.

This paper draws on a novel quantitative dataset that traces the evolution and adaptation of the high street over 20 years in five cities: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham. It reveals changes in use in retailing centres with follow-on qualitative interviews examining how the form and design of shopping centres have adapted over time from being enclosed, fortress-like indoor spaces (built1980s and 1990s) to more open-air shopping centres modelled on the traditional high-street (built in the 2000s and 2010s). The paper explores how well these different typological forms can adapt to the changing fortunes of UK city centres as traditional retail disappears, independent businesses begin to flourish in space once unaffordable, and a new “experience economy” brings entertainment uses like cinemas back to city centres. In this fast-changing context we argue that the repurposing and redesigning of ageing shopping centres is crucial for the survival of the High Street.


[1] Senior Lecturer in Urban Design, University of Glasgow

[2] Senior Lecturer in Real Estate, University of Glasgow

[3] Research Associate, REPAIR, University of Sheffield


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