Town centres need to be repopulated as community hubs as there is too much retail space in the UK. An estimated 28,000 retail jobs have disappeared in 2018 and a further 40,000 are predicted to go by the end of the year.
That’s the conclusion reached by Bill Grimsey, former Chief Executive of Wickes, Iceland and Booker, in the Grimsey Review 2. He argues that bricks and mortar retailing can no longer be the anchor for thriving High Streets and town centres. “There is no point clinging to a sentimental vision of the past,” says Grimsey, who first tackled this area in 2013.
It also calls for an overhaul of the business rates system and a ban on out-of-town developments, predicting that nearly 70,000 High Street jobs will disappear this year.
Town centres should be reinvigorated by focusing on alternatives to retail including housing, leisure, entertainment, education, arts and commercial office space, according to the report. He explained to the BBC: "We are social animals. We need gathering places as otherwise we are going to have a generation of very lonely people growing up."
But he dismissed the idea that free or cheaper parking being reintroduced into High Streets would revitalise them.
"If it was that simple then people would have done it already," he said.
"The point is that the retail proposition in town centres has been overtaken by the more convenient out-of-town parks. The town centres should say 'let them have it'.
"In my generation as retailers, we successfully cloned every town in Britain so they all looked the same, but clearly that doesn't work.
"All the towns have a heritage and history and their reason for uniqueness needs to be brought to the fore.
"We need to repopulate these places and local authorities are the key to unlocking this, along with good leadership. Where it happens it can work."
The report sets out a blueprint for change that includes setting up local town centre commissions with each one tasked with drawing up a 20-year plan. The creation of a new national body – similar to the Scottish Towns Partnership – is also among the 25 recommendations in the review.
Other suggestions include creating a landlord register; giving local authorities the power to fine owners whose properties are left empty for more than six months; and passing legislation enabling shops to be converted more readily into homes or community facilities such as libraries or arts venues.
Bangor BID has been working as part of the Bangor Strategic Partnership over the last year to help secure funding from the Welsh Assembly Targeted Regeneration Investment fund to tackle many of the issues outlined in Grimsey's report.
Read more about the work of the Strategic Partnership here.