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Peter Drummond, BDP’s CEO Talks Shop

“For all the positives of Localism, it is still very difficult for local councils to get a true hold on the value (economic, social and environmental) that town centre regeneration and development can bring. The Portas Pilots announced today are a good start, but decision makers need real help in assessing the actual value of retail-led community-making.”

Following the announcement of the twelve town centres across England that will have the unique opportunity to revitalise their high streets after being selected to be the first Portas Pilots, Peter Drummond, CEO of BDP and current President of the British Council of Shopping Centres talks shop.

The successful pilots will be helped to implement ideas that will rejuvenate their town centres, as well as test out the measures in The Portas Review.

Peter, do you believe that the High Street is at the heart of the town?
Absolutely, the high street is very much at the heart of the community.

.. and is the beat of this heart, shops?
For centuries, society has invested their lives and their focus of attention on certain things that go on in a town centre - market stalls, bars, the town hall.

Recently, there has been a danger of taking the pride and focus away from the town centre by separating activity (i.e. shops, cinemas, offices) that can lead to its decline as the beating heart of a community.

To keep the life of a town centre then you have to keep a mix of activity. Retail is an essential part of that mix that can draw people in and serve them.  Simply, if there are shops, people will come. Provided, there is an element of balance and balance is one of the key points of the Portas Review.

What do you mean by ‘balance’?
The nature of retail now is very different to the butcher, grocer, baker model. Who would have thought we would have so many coffee shops and nail bars on our high streets? There are probably too many shops of the wrong type, we need more of the right type.

Different aspects of retail activity should not be penalised as the world is changing, and an important part of the Review is the need for relaxation of regulations of change of use. For example it should be relatively easy to turn a bakery into a cafe.

What else is threatening the survival of the High Street?
There are many but the main ones can be attributed to the rise of internet shopping and out of town shopping centres.

The internet has taken a lot from retail – but then the internet has taken a lot from everything. Retailers need to look at an omni-channel model , utilising both shops and the internet to be successful. For example, John Lewis has proved very successful online but half their sales are still through stores. The White Company started as an online company and then went to shops.

Do you think the National Planning Policy Framework will have a positive effect on the High Street?
Even pre the National Planning Policy Framework, planning policy says that you must put town centres first over out of town developments. However, government and local authorities have been guilty of not implemented their own policies resulting in some areas having more shops out of town than in. But those out of town centres are serving their customers and are convenient unlike some High Streets.

Successful retail centres and shops are those that realise that this is where a customer goes and must offer convenience.  A town centre or a shopping centre owner needs to facilitate people getting there. Lowsy parking facilities only drive people away – town centres need to make it easier and more attractive to come and stay.

You’ll find shopping centres have marketing campaigns that entice the customer such as fashions shows and promotions. They’ll keep it clean and make it easy and cheap for you to park, town centres need to do the same thing.

Do you believe there is a future for out of town Shopping Centres? Is there a place for them?
Yes, I believe there is definitely a place for them. They offer a scale and convenience of operation that some customers and retailers want that is difficult to house within a town centre.

What is your vision for the future of the High Street?
Now is the time to consolidate like we did in the early 90s when there was a strong planning policy. There was an urban renaissance movement that promoted and facilitated some extremely successful big city centre developments for example: Cabot Square in Bristol, Victoria Square in Belfast and Liverpool ONE.

We need to embrace change and facilitate different uses. We have seen the rise of pop ups and local ‘knit your own crockery’ shops.. these ground up movement are a positive addition to the High Street and can only encourage the community back to it.

In an international context, and especially with regard to developing nations, can other countries learn from our mistakes and successes?
Obviously this is a big question as other countries’ history, culture and society is so different to ours. The fabric of our communities and urban lives has evolved over centuries which in turn has developed our infrastructure. Different countries such as China, where the population is so large, have different traditions and needs but all over the world people are still community animals just like here.

The scale of these communities is one of the defining factors in how they will develop. Did you know the biggest shopping centre in China is 9million sq feet! BDP is designing large scale malls for InterIKEA across China on a scale unprecedented here in the UK but that is the scale that is needed to serve the cities they are placed in.

Populations in developing countries are such that their needs must be answered by rebuilding whole community structures. Major, major developments are needed – whole cities and large-scale infrastructure rather than tinkering and small pockets of development.

However, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Exactly. Building new cities quickly is impossible.

Time is what is needed to grow and develop liveable places but the luxury of it has been taken away in developing countries.  Big mistakes will be made as they are building so fast with the immediate pressure on for basic infrastructure and masterplanning an afterthought.

To build sustainable cities, they need to plan them carefully.

Finally, if you were to create a Peter’s Portas Review which points of Mary’s would you like to see implemented in the Pilot Towns?

  • Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework
  • Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota
  • Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
  • Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
  • Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
  • Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
  • Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders”
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