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News - 03/11/2017

What can cities do to protect their high streets?

Recently we’ve learned that consumer spend, exports and business investment are all weaker than hoped and the UK is showing the slowest rate of growth among the G7 economies. So, what can cities do to protect their local high street?

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Rather than re-invent the wheel, it is useful to look and learn from other parts of the UK to see what approaches have worked. You remember that retail expert Mary Portas was appointed by the then prime minister David Cameron to provide insight into reviewing our high streets? The results were mixed but what has emerged is that clear and long-term planning is critical.

Take Rotherham. The local council moved its offices from prime real estate in the city centre to a bespoke office on the outskirts. This freed up valuable space, some of which was developed by Tesco. It also increased free parking close to the existing high street, created a new square and installed public art.

With a population of over 257,000, the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham is of a comparable size to the City and County of Swansea which stands at over 241,000. 

Rotherham’s Local Authority was bold and borrowed money to back local developers and encouraged them to refurbish and repurpose old and even listed buildings. It also embarked on a detailed review of ownership of long-term vacant buildings and pursued landlords to improve their properties and review rents to bring the space back into use.

It resulted in a wave of 'pop-up shops' and new ventures, with some making the transition to full trading. As successful as its high street boost has been, opening retail spaces alone will not provide the sustained growth and stability all cities seek.

Attracting companies to work in central locations is a must. Rotherham Council’s regeneration arm works with public and private sector organisations in order to incubate new enterprise. The partnership includes Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield and UK Steel Enterprise, and its programme offers support as well as £25k investment prizes for promising ventures.

As the national economy looks set to be buffeted by uncertainty, it is essential that Swansea’s long-term planning takes into account all the tried and tested strategies that help secure sustainable, growing businesses.


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