Doomed! Only by letting the UK high street die, can it begin to be saved

The UK high street is in terminal decline, it was bad enough before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic but it’s hundreds of times worse now. However let’s explore the opportunity the death of the UK high street could bring.

Why is MMC writing about the decline of the UK high street? Read on...

Walk down any high street in any UK town and you see the same thing, the same well known chain stores with a small smattering of hardy independents. As far back as 2005 the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent were highlighting the cloning of the UK high street, M&S, Boots, Starbucks, MacDonald’s, KFC, Burger King the list is endless but they’ll all the present on any UK high street. Same, same, same.

What about the independents?

Where have the independents gone? Well faced with the staggering rents and rates being levied it’s hardly surprising that all but a very few can make an impact. Those that do, we salute you.

And then Covid-19

But now Covid has accelerated the decline of even the biggest names, Debenhams being the latest to be the subject of a rescue package. If these talks fail then that will result in the closure of 200 stores many located on UK high streets. With the likes of M&S reporting an £87.6 Million loss in its annual accounts for the first time in its 94 year history, who on earth is going to take on the space formally occupied by the likes of Debenhams? They can’t all be turned in to Sports Direct superstores.

The UK High Street

Debenhams is far from the only one

Debenhams of course, is just one example, other high street names which have gone to the wall or into administration in the last couple of years include, but is far from limited to:

  • BHS
  • Cath Kidston
  • Brighthouse
  • Laura Ashley
  • Hawkins Bizarre
  • Beales
  • Oasis
  • Warehouse
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Monsoon
  • TM Lewin
  • Oliver Sweeney
  • M&Co
  • Edinburgh Woollen Mill
  • Peacocks
  • Jaeger
  • Bonmarche
  • Arcadia Group

A Huge blow for the UK high street

It’s obvious that the UK high street will be left with large holes following the Covid-19 pandemic. So what do we do with all these large stores which will be left empty for years? And how do we resurrect the high street?

The answer is staring us in the face. As well as a crisis on the high street we have a nationwide housing crisis. Surely the obvious answer is to turn these soon to be vacant stores into residential units – houses and apartments.

But how do you turn a retail store into residential units?

That’s pretty simple too. Most if not all of the services and infrastructure is already in place it’s a reconfiguration project and here at MMC we’ve the perfect example of how light gauge steel frame technology (coupled with screw piles if required) is the perfect solution to separate large open retail space into houses and or apartments.

The work we are currently undertaking at the former site of St. Peter’s Church on Park Lane in Norwich is an ideal example of how to create houses and apartments from an existing large building.

Traditional build methods not an option

Access to the site and many high street sites is tight, literally a 2 metre by 1 metre door in the case of St. Peter’s Church, so traditional methods and materials were never going to be an option. Light gauge steel frame however, formed in sections off site and locked together onsite is ideal to create the outline of each new residence. Insulation and proven sound proofing is added to the party walls and floor by floor, apartment by apartment, house by house the reformed use of this once abandoned building is taking shape.

A proven approach with nothing to fear

For us it’s a simple and proven approach, nothing to fear here nor in any unused retail space in the UK high street.

So how does having lots of people living in town centres actually save the UK high street? With retail rents lower, independents are encouraged to come back and flourish. So if we project forward just a few short years we now have a use for the soon to be empty department stores and large retailers and with a drive by local and central Government a rejuvenated UK high street.

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