‘We’re sleepwalking into a very bad place…’

Retail veteran and former boss of Iceland and Wickes, Bill Grimsey (pictured), is once again to launch a review of Britain’s high streets and town centres five years on from his first initiative, which was published in 2013.

The move follows a string of recent, high-profile retail casualties, including Maplin and Toys R Us. Called Grimsey Review 2, the aim of the new report is to revisit the first Grimsey Review – An Alternative Future for the High Street, which was published in Westminster in 2013 (www.vanishinghighstreet.com).

It sets out to establish what impact the first review had, which recommendations worked and which did not, what has changed since then and what should be done now in order to better prepare our high streets and town centres for the 21st century.

To carry out the review, Grimsey has recruited a task force of experienced professionals, including six of the nine authors of the first report, as well as Kim Cassidy, professor of services (retail) marketing at Edge Hill University in Birmingham.

Speaking to kbbreview, Grimsey said: “Things have changed massively in the past five years – some of which we predicted. There’s a seismic impact from the changes that are now taking place, particularly with consumers and technology. I’ve been quite aggressive in comparing it to the industrial revolution. I think we’re on the brink of seeing such a big social change, because of the influence of technology and the way in which we behave, that unless we do something about our town centres, we’re going to wind up in a very bad place.

“The technology change is huge – I’ll give you one small example. The penetration of smart devices in the younger generation back in 2013, when we did our first review, was about 35% – today, it’s 95%. You can see that we’ve got a generation that is going to be using technology as a matter of a course – they expect it and they adapt to it in a completely different way.”

He added: “The second thing that’s happened since the first review is that we in the UK now have a propensity to go online shopping – we’re the highest of any nation in the world, as we’ve overtaken the US. As a community, we are adapting to the online environment in a big way.

“Thirdly, you’ve seen a massive change in the bricks-and-mortar environment – BHS has gone bust and you’ve seen a flurry of recent activity. The evidence is quite conclusive that traditional retailers are not keeping up, they’re encountering cash-flow issues and they’re going bust. The other change that has happened is Brexit, which is throwing the whole economy up in the air, and we’ve also had five years of austerity cuts – on top of the existing three years – and we’ve had no movement on business rates, which will culminate this year in a big hit for retailers up and down the country, and we’ve had cuts to local authority budgets by central government.”

Grimsey concluded: “It is time to get this subject back on everyone’s agenda, otherwise we will continue to sleepwalk into the remainder of the 21st century, leaving a legacy of ill thought-out town centres and high streets to the next generation.”

The Grimsey Review 2 is primarily aimed at central and local governments, but will be relevant to property developers, regeneration professionals, trade associations, retailers, landlords, investors, think tanks and pressure groups.

It will seek to identify case studies of good practice implemented as a result of the first review and other reviews at the time. It will also look at the costs, financing and operating models of towns. The authors will also proactively contact key stakeholders of towns and cities to gather evidence and opinion, as well as understand what town and community plans exist.

The report will be published on July 4, 2018.

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