Balancing commercial and residential developments is key to keeping town centres alive post-pandemic
- Just 29% of high street addresses are retailers (Office for National Statistics)
- 1 in 12 shops closed in 5 years to 2018 (Ordnance Survey)
- Blending retail units with new homes is key to city centre survival (Fabrik Invest)
Property investment specialists Fabrik Invest have spoken out about the importance of balancing residential development in city centres with commercial premises in the post-pandemic world. City centres have been hit incredibly hard not only by successive lockdowns but also by the reduced footfall resulting from a far higher incidence of home working throughout the pandemic. According to Fabrik Invest, this puts an onus on developers and investors to take an active role in keeping urban centres alive.
“Our town and city centres were already struggling when the pandemic struck, with one in 12 shops closing in the five years to 2018. Yet town centres do so much to help communities connect. That’s something that has become infinitely more valuable as a result of the prolonged isolation of the pandemic. Developers have plenty of scope to help nurture our towns’ and cities’ growth and this needs to be a key focus moving forward.”
By March 2020, just 29% of high street addresses were retailers. Squeezed salaries and the shift to online shopping have been two of the key reasons behind this, both of which have been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic. The closure of offices and the shift to students studying online has intensified the problem, due to the huge drop in the number of those passing through town and city centres. For retail units, footfall is everything
People’s changing preferences have also had an impact on town centres in recent years. While the pandemic has served to push people towards country living, that followed a boom in demand for city centre homes, which is likely to pick up once more as the vaccine roll-out continues and we look forward to a post-pandemic return to relatively normal life.
“People increasingly want everything on their doorsteps – to live within walking distance of excellent restaurants, a selection of shops and the best leisure facilities available. The relaxation of planning laws meant that many old office spaces could be converted into residential buildings, but we need to balance that with keeping commercial premises in urban centres too, as those are a key part of the reason that people want to live centrally.”
Steve Jacob, CEO, Fabrik Invest
The planning law relaxation allowed people with B1 office space to convert it into residential accommodation without the need for a full planning application, provided they stuck to national framework guidelines. The move led to a lot of unused office space being turned into homes and continues to do so to this day. Fabrik Invest regularly offers such developments for investment.
Bishopgate Gardens in Preston is a prime example of this. The office block, which had stood vacant since early 2019, is being converted into 130 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with shared social spaces including a stylish lounge area, coffee pod café, shared working space, reception area with 24/7 concierge and show-stopping rooftop gardens on the eighth and eleventh floors.
Bishopgate Gardens will also be home to seven retail units on the ground floor, including a deli, barbers, beauticians and florist. Budding entrepreneurs to take over the high-spec shops, which face onto the development’s impressive plaza, are currently being sought.
“With commercial to residential conversions, there’s often plenty of scope for developers to provide retail space on the ground floor. This will be key to the long-term survival of our town and city centres as places where individuals can connect with local businesses and with the wider community. In the post-pandemic era, this will be more important than ever in keeping the commercial heart of our cities alive.”
Steve Jacob, CEO, Fabrik Invest