In the latest episode of PropCast, Anthea Harries, head of assets for Argent’s King’s Cross development, Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director of Portland Design and Alex McCulloch, director at CACI discuss high street regeneration with Blackstock Consulting’s Anna Beketov.
Physical stores may be continuing to close in their thousands, but for Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director at placemaking experts Portland Design, the high street still has a crucial role to play at the heart of many local communities. “This idea that turning swathes of retail to residential is going to solve everything is wrong – that is absolutely not the solution,” he says. “We’ve got to create and maintain a lively, activated, diverse high street.”
Anthea Harries directs the curation of King’s Cross on behalf of Argent. She attributes its success to the activation of the public realm: “You can create great spaces within buildings themselves, but if the environment around them is not safe, secure, clean, accessible and open to all, then there is immediately a barrier for people to actually enter those shops.”
Ibrahim, board member of the government’s High Street Task Force, points to a key role for brands. “We’ve got to absolutely think about how we can regenerate our high streets to become the galvaniser of community again, and I don’t just mean that in terms of local demographic community. We’ve also got to think about communities of interest that are centred around brands and influencers.”
Speaking about the brands on offer at King’s Cross, Harries describes them as those “that can offer experience in store, are focused on craftsmanship and unique products that they sell, and also on the importance of customer service. You can’t get customer service one-on-one online, but you can if you engage with a brand in a physical store and have a fantastic experience.”
Landlords and retailers also need to better use data to inform decision-making. Alex McCulloch, who analyses these datasets through his role at CACI, a technology and data business, explains: “What we’re trying to understand is what motivates people. If you went back three or four years, the primary way of doing that would be through talking to people. And that still has a huge role to play, but what we’ve seen is a significant acceleration of datasets which allow us to understand how people engage and move through space, and how that changes over time.”
With giants like Amazon now increasingly opening physical stores and data enabling brands to better understand the value of being on the high street, McCulloch says: “We have observed again and again in almost every sector, category and location, brands’ online sales will be higher in the area immediately around the store than it will be beyond that. That’s because there’s a degree of trust the customer has in that brand, because they know that it’s physically there. Working together with the data available today it’s now possible for brands and landlords to create performance-based leases that better reflect stores’ true multi-channel value”
For Harries and Ibrahim, providing a holistic high street experience means employing a ‘blended’ typology model, made possible by the new Class E use class within English planning regulations which offer greater flexibility of how space can be used. “Being able to blend retail, leisure, educational use, and showcasing theatrical opportunities, the really good brands will be able to capitalise on that flexibility and create really sensational spaces,” Harries argues.
But as she makes clear: “The boring element of it is actually making it affordable for operators. It doesn’t matter how experimental they are, if they can’t afford to pay rent, the business rates and the costs that go with it, they’re not going to last long.”
Head of Assets, King's Cross