Next boss Lord Wolfson believes improved road access and cheap parking is key to resuscitating the UK’s struggling high streets and branded other initiatives as pointless gimmicks.
Wolfson said: “You can look across Britain and see city centres that are absolutely booming. Look at Manchester, Leeds city centre and smaller towns like Bury. There is no reasons why city centres shouldn’t thrive.
“They need four things. They need good, quick access by car, they need cheap parking, they need a dense pitch of shops preferably with some sort of canopy so people don’t get wet and some sort of pedestrianisation so people don’t get run over and they need units that are large enough to take the sort of ranges retailers have these days which is significantly bigger than in the 1960s and 70s.
“If you can deliver all these things you can have a thriving town centre. All the other frills and gimmicks won’t change a thing.”
Wolfson said that neither online nor out-of-town developments were impacting the high street significantly. He pointed out that Manchester, which he considers to be one of the UK’s best retail centres, is still thriving despite the proximity of out-of-town behemoth the Trafford Centre.
Despite this, Wolfson said that retail rental prices would have to come down in the future in acknowledgment of the growing contribution of online. However he insisted: “I don’t think the age of shops is dead.”
Wolfson, who revealed a 8.2% jump in pre-tax profits to £271.8m in Next’s first half this morning, sounded a note of caution on signs that the UK economy is improving.
“Things have stopped getting worse but they haven’t started getting better,” he said.
“For the consumer the credit squeeze is over, that’s good news as one of the drags on sales has disappeared. However it is not the same thing as a recovery. We won’t see any real recovery in retail sales until we see real earnings growth and that looks like it’s at least a year off.”