What is a “High Street”?

The REPAIR Team has been a little quiet for a while as we have been snowed under with data collection and analysis. As we begin to tunnel our way out from underneath the pile of numbers and data, excitement has been building as some of the initial findings begin to emerge. Within the REPAIR project overall, the focus at this stage is on the first Work Package, which brings together diverse data to enable land and property use and ownership to be explored. For each of our case study cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham), this has been a mammoth task, with multiple data sources sourced, scoured and matched up. The amount of information logged into Team members’ heads is astounding (and slightly worrying for those dear to them). Who knew that, for one property, “the units are held at an annual rental of one red rose”, for example!

flat red rose

As the task has gone on, many other projects and think-pieces have proliferated. Each one has been valuable, but each one has been on a smaller scale. This has caused the Team to question their sanity at times, but it has also reaffirmed that the need for the REPAIR approach is clear. Without such a thorough and robust approach, it is difficult to think that the issues facing many of our High Streets can really be identified and tackled.

And yet, what is a “High Street”?

This is a question that has perplexed the REPAIR Team. A High Street, or even a ‘central retail core’ means different things to different people. In terms of studies of this mysterious entity, a boundary can be needed and these have varied considerably. It might be a traditional single street, marked out as prime and where Marks and Spencer often attracted the crowds of shoppers and thus the neighbouring retailers that could afford it. Some studies have chosen to include a few streets nearby and this perhaps more accurately reflects where we, as shoppers, wander. The ONS recently defined it as a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres (ONS, 2019[1]). But diversity in what attracts shoppers to “go into town” means that perhaps a broader area should be studied. Such an approach can capture ebbs and flows in prime and secondary retail locations, as areas go into and go out of fashion over time. Such movements can occur as retailers move, as leisure uses evolve in type and popularity, and as consumer behaviour alters.

The REPAIR Team has chosen to study the Principal Retail Area set out by the Local Panning Authority. Mapped over time, this has shifted in some of our case study cities. As the project progresses, it will be interesting to see what might underlie these shifts, in terms of ownership, and retail and indeed non-retail use types. The relationships between these factors and value can also be explored using our mountains of data. An exciting and busy time ahead. We look forward to sharing.

[1] ONS (2019) High streets in Great Britain, available from:


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