Are restaurants the new driver for town centre regeneration?

clive cunioOver recent years, the traditional high street has faced stiff competition, and many have entered a spiral of decline, with reduced levels of viability and vitality.

But changing outdated planning policies to help increase the number of restaurants can provide a significant boost, writes Clive Cunio who is based at the Altrincham office of planning consultants Caulmert.

It’s no secret that the high street is coming off worse in its fight against out of town shopping and the internet, which increasingly draw shoppers away from the high street.

Out of town shopping centres offer easy access with free car parking, whilst the large supermarket chains provide choice, price competitiveness and one stop shopping.

Latterly, the number of people who rely on the internet for their shopping and have their purchases delivered straight to the door has increased dramatically.

The Government is helping the fight back and has committed to supporting high streets as part of its long term economic plan to create jobs and boost local communities.

The 2016 winners of the Great British High Street competition, run by the Department for Communities and Local Government, were announced with Blackburn scooping the top award.

And former High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt said: “High streets are a vital part of our economy, supporting thousands of jobs in retail and leisure, but they are also the heart of communities providing a great place for friends and family to meet.”

In addition to the Great British High Street competition, the Government has implemented a number of initiatives in England to try and halt this decline. For example, it has increased flexibility on the high street so that premises housing shops, restaurants and banks can change use between one another.

Changes also include allowing buildings with shops, banks and estate agents to change use to cinemas and gyms.

Whether this has had much of an impact in practice is debatable.

However, we are a nation of shoppers and the enjoyment of the experience can be a critical factor in determining whether people want to come back again.

Research shows restaurant and leisure offerings complement the shopping experience and can result in significantly longer dwell times.

Evidence from marketing technology and data specialists CACI shows retail spend rises considerably with an improved catering offer.

Freeing retail space for leisure can also produce benefits by reducing surplus floor space. The changing role of the high street provides an opportunity to break the spiral of decline and to increase vitality and viability.

In Greater Manchester, recent success stories include the listed Altrincham Market, which is helping to rejuvenate the surrounding area by offering new bijoux restaurant space, including a number of local operators, each providing the customer with very different food and drink choices.

Other examples include the Corn Exchange in Manchester City Centre, which did not succeed as a ‘quality retail destination’ but now provides a dining destination which complements and enhances the City Centre as a whole.

It is clear to see the positive link between restaurant/leisure provision on our high streets and town centre regeneration.

Outdated planning policies seeking to protect and maintain certain areas purely for retail provision can often result in significant decline to those areas.

There needs to be a comprehensive leisure-based strategy put in place for many of these declining high streets, focusing on the many benefits that restaurant and leisure uses can bring to the wider area.

Caulmert’s planners have worked successfully in the restaurant/leisure market for a number of years, advising clients and securing permissions for restaurant developments, including TGI Friday’s, Carluccio’s and a number of other regional operators.  For a free half-hour telephone consultation with one of Caulmert’s planners email contact@caulmert.com

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