David Pomeroy, partner and head of the restructuring and insolvency team at Bristol law firm Ashfords, shares his thoughts on how the city's high streets will need to evolve in order to survive
Every week we see a report of another major high street retailer on the brink. Mothercare is the latest to announce restructure plans and RBS has announced the closure of many of its high street branches, including Clifton.
They follow hot on the heels of brand names such as Jamie’s Italian, Maplin, Toys R Us, Byron, Prezzo and New Look closing or scaling back.
Bristol is experiencing its fair share of changes. Witness the many shop fronts papered up or hosting a pop-up business. There doesn’t seem to be enough business to go around already, even before Cribbs Causeway expands – if it does.
The growth of internet shopping, traffic congestion and parking issues have contributed to the downturn of high street shopping.
Retailers who have not taken these issues into consideration and adapted their offer accordingly, such as combining on and offline shopping or introducing delivery services, have clearly been left behind.
But there are some success spots. Cargo One and Two on the Harbourside have quickly proved themselves to be consumer favourites and Clifton Village, despite the residents parking zone, continues to flourish with Waterstones and The Ivy, which are two of the latest names to show confidence in the village.
Gloucester Road and Cotham have also weathered the retail downturn, with a strong independent offering in food, drink and general retail.
Why is that? Well, these are probably what you would call ‘sticky streets’.
When the high street first evolved people wanted a shopping experience, somewhere they could ‘stick around’ and enjoy the destination, combining shopping with eating, drinking and socialising.
They wanted to experience something different every time they came back, not the same sterile warehouse environment of the out-of-town mall or the chain store where every one in every high street looks the same.
So how will the traditional high street continue to evolve if it is to survive? In my opinion, we need to think more laterally about what that space represents.Bristol has 47 clearly identifiable high streets or local centres, including the city centre (comprising Bristol Shopping Quarter – Cabot Circus, Broadmead and The Galleries), 10 town, nine district and 27 local centres.
I believe that alongside a continued drift towards independent and individual, we’ll see more and more businesses popping up that offer what’s known as empty space guardianship, transforming bigger retail and commercial premises to temporary office or residential use.
Empty space guardianship is a short-term solution for empty premises but a model that is becoming increasingly popular.
Buildings can be converted into appropriate accommodation or office space, including shops, churches and even disused fire stations. It provides security to the property owner while the building is empty, and provides cheaper housing or office space for the guardians.
Having people occupying empty units can, in turn, help to support existing retail units by keeping the area populated and busy.
The high street in Bristol will look very different in a few years as a result of the recent changes - and this represents real opportunity for innovative ideas for using the space.