Retail experts called in to brief taskforce on High Street decline

Commercial property experts Colliers International have been brought in to advise a Government taskforce charged with tackling the decline of Britain’s High Streets.

The Distressed Retail Property Taskforce has been set up to identify ways of rejuvenating struggling town centres and has appointed the property consultancy to report back on the problems which have built up in the sector during the downturn.

Colliers International planning and heritage expert James Edwards supported a number of local campaigns aimed at securing additional funding for the West’s embattled High Streets and helped mobilise public opinion behind the schemes.

Welcoming the initiative, he said: “We have been closely involved with a number of schemes aimed at halting the decline of our High Streets and strongly supported several towns bidding for a share of the Government’s £1.2m ‘Portas Plan’ pot.

“Five Somerset towns – Chard, Wellington, Taunton, Wincanton and Burnham – made unsuccessful bids while just two West locations – Bedminster in Bristol and Liskeard in Cornwall were lucky enough to receive support.

“In the meantime, many of our towns remain vulnerable to the sea change in shopping trends which has seen a steep decline in footfall as people increasingly look online for everything from cameras to cauliflowers.”

James added that it wasn’t just the small Somerset towns which had suffered. Even major shopping attractions such as Park Street in Bristol had seen an increase in the number of empty shops – with some premises taken over by short-term ‘pop-up’ operations.

The new Government-backed taskforce includes representatives from the British Council of Shopping Centres, British Property Federation, British Retail Consortium, the Local Government Association and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

James Edwards said the broad range of expertise was exactly what was required if High Street retailers were to be given any hope of stemming the decline.

He said: “We have been appointed to assess the towns and cities that are in distress, examining the property-related issues affecting these locations. By identifying the common themes across the country we can help pave the way for regenerative change.”

Findings of the study would be assessed to identify solutions to issues relating to property investment, management and development in town centres.

James Edwards concluded: “We will be looking at the root causes of town centre distress and working with the taskforce to address them.

“The main objective will be to identify a range of robust solutions to assist in the repositioning of town centres to enable them to operate successfully within the new retail hierarchy. It is clear fundamental changes will be required to reverse years of decline in the face of out of town centres and the internet.”