It is not difficult to predict that 2019 is likely to be another difficult year for the retail sector, but the key to success will be to see this as an opportunity to reposition our town centres, writes Caroline Baker of Cushman & Wakefield.
I predict that 2019 will be a year when the institutions and investors – which have so far only been interested in the regional centres – start to look at the next tier of town centres. 2018 has seen an unprecedented number of cranes in the sky in Manchester building new homes, but less than 10 years ago investors saw delivering new homes in the city centre as too risky. In the 1980s there were less than 1,000 homes in Manchester city. Fast forward to today and there is no shortage of investors or people who want to be part of the thriving centre.
We will see similar trends in our best town centres. Altrincham is already setting the standard – and setting it high. Andy Burnham has laid down the challenge to partners in Greater Manchester to determine a new future for their town centres through the Town Centre Challenge. Local authorities, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Homes England are looking at how to use their resources to harness opportunities and work with the private sector to unlock development.
But the need to make sure towns are responding to the challenges is not restricted to GM. Cushman & Wakefield and our partners have been assessing the residential potential and preparing strategies for a range of town centres including Barrow, Kendal, Macclesfield and Preston during 2018 and these will town centres will be delivering change during 2019, as will many other places.
The key is to determine which town centres have the greatest attributes and will thrive. The focus needs to be on those towns that have great connectivity, access to jobs and access to local services combined with unique assets which make them standout – such as a great stock of architectural buildings, access to countryside, attractive waterways running through them or a programme of events which attract a wide range of visitors. Where partners come together and set a new vision for these towns with a passion and commitment to work together, transformation will happen.
We need to get more people living in our town centres but many lack quality homes or have limited choices – being dominated by social housing or ageing terraces. We need modern homes which attract a wider range of occupiers – young families, downsizers and beyond. Savvy developers will start to develop residential products – such as townhouses and low to mid rise apartments – which respond to the desires of those residents who appreciate the benefits of town centre living or maybe don’t have the resources or desire to live on the 25th floor of an apartment block in Manchester or Liverpool. Where this starts to happen the bars and restaurants will follow and our towns will be vibrant again.
Where public and private sector partners and local residents and businesses are working together to set a new strategy for their town centres, 2019 and beyond will be exciting.