More homes, fewer shops
CITY centres such as Plymouth's are likely to see more homes and fewer shops in future, according to a leading property expert.
Nick Wheeldon, director of estate agents Waycotts Commercial, said out-of-town shopping is now leading demand – meaning high streets have had to change. And Plymouth-born Mr Wheeldon, who lives in Yelverton and whose company covers Plymouth, said more changes are likely to be on the way with residential use one way of coping with shrinking retail demand.
It was an idea contained in a Plymouth City Council masterplan back in 2009, which advocated bringing more office and residential space into the city centre to reverse decades of town planning that has pushed development to the outskirts.
And Mr Wheeldon's comments come after Plymouth last month lost its JJB Sports outlet and a Blacks branch, both in lower New George Street, leaving the city with a vacancy rate of 11 per cent, although below the 11.6 per cent national average.
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"For the modern family, a trip to an out-of-town retail park has come to replace the family's Sunday outing to a tourist attraction," said Mr Wheeldon. These all-weather destinations with free parking and super-shed shopping, where you can buy everything you need, are now the norm."
He said it has meant some city high streets have transformed into "something resembling glitzy retail parks, with coffee shops and mobile phone retailers relieving the formulaic facades of other global brands" and said district shopping centres have also changed.
"The huge growth of the student population in Plymouth has left its mark on Mutley Plain, the city's secondary retail neighbourhood," he said.
"Where once there were family oriented, clothes, shoe and furniture stores alongside traditional food outlets and three pubs, it is now dominated by fast food, charity shops, DVD rentals and has 10 pubs.
"Villages such as Ugborough in South Devon and Plympton St Maurice, were once well served with butchers, bakers, convenience stores, a post office and the like, today they have none.
"While the population hasn't withered away, the residents have adapted."
However, Mr Wheeldon said the measures suggested by TV retail queen Mary Portas – turning void retail space in to gyms and crèches – is merely "sticking plaster policy".
And he called the Government's pledge of £10million as a high street innovation fund "laughable".
"I simply can't see the proliferation of pop-up enterprises providing any sustainable economic life however, innovative or niche they may be."
He said there are other challenges too, including the Energy Act 2011 which will require landlords to upgrade before they can let or sell properties.