Retailer and turnaround specialist Bill Grimsey says the High Street must evolve to survive – and independent retailers should be given discount rates to help it.
"We need to convert our towns into community hubs and not retail destinations," he told PCR in an exclusive interview.
"We need to embrace housing particularly above shop units where there’s lots of space. But housing, education, health, entertainment, leisure, and some shops – which would be independent and served by pedestrianisation and free parking – will add some character and distinction.
"I don’t see High Streets as shopping destinations. I see them as having lots of health services, particularly for the aging population, lots more leisure, entertainment, arts and crafts, housing and getting the population back into town centres, and some shops as a consequence. Big malls are going to grow up, they’re going to be destinations for whole days out, and it’s important that the independents get some say in that. Which is why we say if you grant planning permission for a big mall, you need to put in a floor for independents and give them special rates."
Grimsey – who also criticised the Mary Portas Review and the Government for not doing enough to help indies – said retailers should embrace tech more going forwards.
"We need to blast our towns into the 21st century," he added. "And embrace technology in a different way. They need to be wired up, there needs to be free wi-fi everywhere, no black spots, all of the retailers, businesses and community services need to be wired in such a way that they’ve got apps and they’re talking to the local community and that will make a difference.
"The High Streets/town centres of the future need to become experiences – so rather like the Apple experience is today, which is nothing like a shop used to be. There are no tills, it’s a hustling bustling place of people getting information, and enjoying an experience. And I think that’s going to happen in other sectors very quickly, as technology complements the sale of products.
"Eventually I see some sectors not even having any products in store at all. It’ll all be digital, especially in fashion we’re inventory is a problem with markdowns and all the rest of it. I think eventually they’ll be booths with hologram fashion displays, for girls particularly to sit and watch. They’ll be able to take pictures and put it on Facebook and order afterwards, I think that’s where the future is – how you create an experience for tomorrow’s consumer, supported by modern technology, particularly mobile devices.
"I think the High Streets of the future will be modern wired up places for communities to communicate and connect through technology to save time so that convenience is right up there for them to live, work and play in an environment that has embraced technology and not been a victim of it."