Retail experts predict high street gloom

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 June 2013

Weston High Street - are more shops set to close?

Weston High Street - are more shops set to close?

Archant

WESTON could lose a fifth of its High Street shops within the next five years, according to alarming new predictions by national retail experts.

Retail Futures 2018

✖* 164 high street firms will fold by 2018.

✖* 22,600 shops and 140,000 jobs will be lost.

✖* Hardest hit will be pharmacy, health and beauty stores; 35 per cent will close.

✖* Music, books, cards, stationery and DIY stores will suffer; 29 per cent will go.

✖* Online sales will acount for 21.5 per cent of all transactions by 2018, compared to 12.7 per cent today.

✖* UK retailers have a higher share of online sales than anywhere else in the world.

✖* Store vacancy rates have increased from 5.4 per cent in 2008 to 14.1 per cent now. This is predicted to hit 24 per cent in 2018.

The Centre For Retail Research says it expects one in five stores in the nation’s town centres to close by 2018.

The organisation’s Retail Futures 2018 report says big names are being forced out of business by a combination of the UK’s struggling economy and the growing popularity of online shopping.

Weston has already lost a number of High Street stalwarts in recent years, and has been unable to attract a single retailer to the big-money Dolphin Square redevelopment in the two years since it won planning permission.

Prophecies of further closures hint at a bleak future – but there is still hope for well-run town centres willing to diversify, according to the report’s author Professor Joshua Bamfield.

He said: “The performance of the retail sector has been thrust into the spotlight in the past two years as the Government formed an alliance with celebrity retail expert Mary Portas.

“The subsequent report set out a range of initiatives to breathe life back into the high street.

“This is a mammoth task which requires high levels of funding, and extremely tight management, both of which are challenging to say the least.”

North Somerset Council is in the process of distributing £100,000 of the Portas cash to community groups with innovative ideas to help revitalise the district’s town centres.

Early grants have gone to market organisers, arts and theatre groups, independent shops and cafes and a food festival.

However, it is an idea already mooted for Weston which could go even further towards ensuring the predicted closures don’t kill the town centre, according to Professor Bamfield.

Last month, the Mercury reported a radical idea from town leaders to diversify town centre offerings, and turn empty shops into homes.

The idea was rated as ‘acceptable in principal’ by the council, who said the future could see parts of the town becoming ‘far more mixed and varied in the type of businesses that are located there’.

The Retail Futures report agrees that finding new use for empty shops – which nationally stood at five per cent in 2008, stand at 14 per cent today, and are predicted to reach 24 per cent in 2018 – is key.

Professor Bamfield said: “Turn empty shops into residential accommodation, create more service, entertainment and leisure outlets and provide offices, doctor’s surgeries, classrooms, meeting rooms and other facilities for which there may be local demand.

“Areas where such drastic demise is predicted would benefit greatly from re-engineering of this kind.”

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