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The shape of things to come: researchers examine the future of UK high streets

Published: 2 February 2012
Professor Neil Wrigley
Researching the future of the High Street with Professor Michelle Lowe

At a time when the future of UK town centres is high on the political agenda and the Government’s response to the Portas Review is awaited, researchers at the University of Southampton have been awarded over £250,000 to evaluate alternative visions of the future of UK high streets over the next 25 years.

"We will look at how retail and services provision might evolve over the next quarter century, and, in-turn, to what extent and how our town centres and high streets are likely to adapt and change to survive,” comments Professor Neil Wrigley, who is leading the research."

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, with support from the UK’s largest retailer Tesco, the project aims to provide a forward-looking and agenda-setting evaluation building-on, and out from, the government-commissioned ‘Portas Review’ into high streets. The Southampton study will have an emphasis on what emerging evidence-based research is suggesting about high streets’ longer-term development.

The study seeks to:

  • assess alternative visions of future high streets in terms of their social, economic and environmental impact;
  • explore the ways in which town centres and high streets show resilience by adapting and evolving;
  • consider what facets of high streets might best be supported by future policy interventions - for social and environmental, as well as local economic growth purposes.

Professor Wrigley (Geography) and co-investigator Professor Michelle Lowe (Southampton Management School) will engage widely with industry to gauge opinion. They will draw together expert panels of opinion leaders from the retail and property industries, local and national government, and academia. In addition, they will conduct in-depth interviews with key stakeholders; explore case studies of specific high streets; and examine successful small to medium sized businesses which can act as ‘local heroes’ for retail in their towns.

"There is a growing sense that the time may be right for reinvigorated and coordinated policy responses on high streets, and that the Portas Review has provided a helpful catalyst,” comments Professor Wrigley."

"It is essential, as those policy responses emerge, that a considered and forward-looking academic exploration of how town centres and high streets are evolving; may evolve in the future; and can be sustained, informs policy debate,” Professor Wrigley concludes."

Ends

More information about:

Geography and Management at Southampton

ESRC and the Portas Review

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