The evolution of use, the story begins (tentatively) …

In our last blog, we reported how the REPAIR Team is beginning the move from data collection to preliminary analysis and some of the challenges this raises. This time we can happily report a few (very) preliminary findings, hopefully a taster to whet your appetites for future results and blogs.

In the last part of the twentieth century, retailers in town and city centres demanded larger units, to try to compete with the size and variety of the offer in stores in the rapidly emerging out-of-town retail malls and parks. Across the UK, data now reveal a reduction in unit size in the majority of towns and cities. Moreover, there is a fall in the number of shops. This indicates a marked change and shrinkage in offer.

So what about vacancies? Vacancies in our High Streets have been much reported, debated and lamented. In terms of vacancy rates by the number of units, data from the Local Data Company reveal there is a similar pattern seen in each of our five cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham (over the last decade). This is surprising, with our case studies selected, in part, for their diversity in catchment, constraints and fortunes prior to the study period. Stability in vacancies at the start of the decade was followed by a rise, a levelling and then a fall back to previous levels, a bit like a humped-backed bridge when viewed as a graph, and then broad stability again. As the project progresses, we will be able to see whether vacancies have been filled by retail use, or converted to an alternative use, or whether the rate of churn has increased.

humped back bridge

However, when vacancy by floorspace is studied (using Experian data), some of our case study cities have around double the vacant space in 2017 that they had in 2000 (Hull being the most notable, followed by Edinburgh), whereas Glasgow has been up and down like a yoyo, ending up pretty much where it started. Supply and occupation can be very lumpy in our towns and cities! Again, we’ll be exploring whether the larger vacant units that contribute to this mixed picture, such as those previous occupied by BHS and Woolworths, have been filled or sub-divided, or remain vacant. Of course you only need to walk down the street to see this, but we’ll be taking it on to the next stage and mapping and analysing the changes in use, looking at design innovations, and analysing stakeholder relationships for examples where positive (and perhaps less-positive) change has occurred.

The balance between independent retailers and multiples is often discussed. Local Data Company figures show that, although there are clear differences in our sample, with Edinburgh having the highest proportion of independents within its stock and Hull the lowest, unexpectedly we see that for all of our cities, the mix in 2018 is really quite similar to the mix in 2010, albeit the trends are, again, lumpy as the decade has gone by. More exploration and analysis needed!

We’re not just looking at occupation. Collating data on ownership is a new area that hasn’t really been explored before. It is difficult. The data are opaque, patchy and difficult to make sense of. Pure ownership only scratches at the surface of what is important. Watch out for another blog on this soon but, for now, we’re disappearing back under the data duvet for a while (not as comfortable as it sounds) …

data duvet

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