Out of town developments do not deliver the kind of experience shoppers deserve.
It’s a week since the Portas review hit the streets and for a day or so retailing, as a sector, left its customary position in the newspapers’ business sections and headed for the front page, a status normally accorded to wars, appalling crime, the economy or health and education. Pick up the papers today however and while retailing may feature in some of the nationals as part of the broader economic picture, the customary order of things has been restored – retail is back in its cage.
The thrust of the report remains however, out-of-town bad, high streets (where they remain) good and there is much to support this view of things. Yet just a word or two about retail parks. They are certainly more convenient, both in terms of access and the little matter of stowing the hunk of metal that takes you there. The point at which they fall down is when it comes to appearance.
For the most part, one edge-of-town development looks like any other – these are sheds and no matter what is done, they look like sheds. In this the fault lies not with the retailers that have taken space in these locations, but with a collective failure of the imagination on the part of developers and architects – those who put these things together in the first place.
What has in fact taken place is that a lowest acceptable common denominator has become the order of the day, a mansard roof here, a high glazed-frontage there, but for the most part a pretty depressing vista. And yet shoppers frequent them because UK retail has developed to the point where, internet or no internet, if you want to show off a competent offer, a large space is generally required.
Perhaps as well as saving the high street, pressure should be brought to bear on developers to do something about the way they have treated the edges of our large towns and cities. By any standards, these are depressing places that, as they were all new builds, could have been so much more appealing. Retailers and shoppers deserve better and developers should have provided better. Currently, high streets at least have the potential to be places where you might want to spend time.