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Retail a key component of successful city centres

Successful cities must change and evolve and retail is a key component of this, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Towards Affordable Cities briefing, which took place online recently.

Scott Farmer, Leader, Stirling Council

“Many town centres have become wastelands because retail moved out, but we use the planning process to keep retail in the city centre,” said Scott Farmer, leader, Stirling Council. “People and policy makers have realised that cities can’t become huge soulless dormitories, they must have a life and shops and a circular economy.”

Buildings can be leased innovatively and repurposed when necessary, he said. Creativity and flexibility can help in place making and encourage indigenous growth.

“Where small and independent retail or hospitality is struggling, we have waived fees to make it easier for them,” said Adam McVey, council leader, City of Edinburgh. “Planning is key and must adapt to different situations. A positive and refreshing ‘get it done’ attitude has emerged from the pandemic.”

Mixed-use has a crucial role to play in encouraging the local economy and in creating community hubs.

Adam McVey, Leader, Edinburgh Council

“I’m very excited about mixed-use because we incorporate space for SMEs and small entrepreneurs in our residential buildings,” said Adina David, director of urban living, Greystar. “We also believe that a more diversified buffering in the housing space would benefit most cities.”

Having a greater range of options, in the residential as well as the retail and office sector, contributes to the success of a city.

“As an investor you must create places where people want to be”, said Anette Simpson, director of development and partnerships, Legal & General Affordable Homes. “Cities are not just bricks and mortar but they must have a heart and a soul.”

The new Johnny Walker centre in Edinburgh

Retail is a vital component of a city centre but sometimes shops need to be repurposed, as is often the case with department stores.

“We’ve relaxed our planning regulations to change shopping centres into different destinations,” said McVey.

The former House of Fraser department store in Princes Street, for example, has been turned into the Johnny Walker centre, which will open this summer. The whisky visitor experience is set to be an attraction for locals and tourists alike, with rooftop bars, private dining areas, tasting experiences, personalised tours and live performance areas.

There is also an application to turn the former Debenhams department store on Princes Street into a boutique hotel and hospitality hub with restaurants, bars and space for public events.