Research /

Urban Character

Changing face of the High Street

Our town and city centres are representative of wider economic and social dynamics and there is a renewed commitment to the identification of strategies to support their renewal and vitality.

by Antony Rifkin & Alistair Macdonald

Many centres are defined by a distinctive historic character which plays a crucial role in creating an attractive setting for retailing and reinforcing competitive advantage. Recent experience and research highlights that the future context for retailing in town centres will be very different and that centres must therefore adapt to the changing policy and economic landscape.

Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners was commissioned to undertake case study research and develop a report outlining lessons of good practice in response to the shifting policy landscape in relation to retailing and town centre. The report revisits the original English Heritage report, 'Retail Development in Historic Areas' which was published in 2005. The publication provided case studies and guidance in relation to the process, design and opportunities for the conversion and reuse of historic buildings.

The 2005 document reflects retail and development trends of the property market boom in the early part of the last decade. The transition in retail development from shopping malls to streetbased retailing was only just beginning to come to fruition when the research for the previous guide was undertaken and there were few examples of more sensitive, innovative schemes. Clearly, there have been a number of fundamental economic shifts as well as changes in retail trends and the national policy framework.

In addition, a wide range of different interventions are beginning to gain momentum in terms of retail development and town centre initiatives. These include improved and more widespread town centre management programmes, the managed reduction in retail outlets and more sensitive and successful examples of large-scale street-based retail schemes.

The brief for the research evolved from a series of round table discussions involving English Heritage, the Historic Towns Forum and other stakeholders.

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