‘Scrap the High Street’ says designer on Place Review Panel

EBONY GORDON reports on some worrying retail trends for town centre developers Westfield and Hammerson

Wayne Hemingway: sounding the death knell for the High Street

Wayne Hemingway, one of the country’s most high-profile designers, and a member of Croydon’s Place Review Panel, says that viewing town centres as venues for “retail therapy” is a thing of the past.

“There is a societal change amongst a new generation who don’t see shopping as the be-all and end-all,” Hemingway said in the BBC Radio interview this week.

That will be bad news for Croydon Council, which runs the Place Review Panel, and for Westfield and Hammerson, who are supposed to be starting work on a £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres sometime in 2019.

Following a lengthy and expensive – for the council – Compulsory Purchase Order process in the town centre and a second planning permission granted six months ago for Westfield’s scheme, which now includes nearly 1,000 “luxury apartments”, store owners and traders have informed Inside Croydon that they have had no further information from the developers about when the regeneration project might begin, or when they will be expected to vacate their premises.

Westfield never invited the council’s expensively assembled Place Review Panel to look at its proposals before it went before the planning committee.

So Hemingway and his colleagues have not been asked for their opinions on a scheme which has been in discussion for more than six years.

For the Croydon Partnership of Westfield and Hammerson, retailing data this year has been grim news

But Hemingway was clear, when interviewed by the BBC about troubling declines in retailing business figures, that the era of the High Street as a shopping venue may be coming to an end – a judgement which might be worrying for the decision-makers at Westfield and Hammerson with so much investment in Croydon at stake.

So far this year, out-of-town retailers Toys ‘R Us have gone out of business and technology chain Maplin has closed, while department store chain House of Fraser has announced a series of closures.

On Monday, the British Retail Consortium and Springboard published figures that showed that footfall – the number of potential customers visiting stores – fell by 3.3 per cent in April. That was on top of a 6 per cent fall in March, and prompted comparisons from the Consortium with the worst decline in retail business since the depths of the recession in 2009.

Other data showed that town centre vacancy rate – the number of empty shops – had risen to 9.2 per cent, a figure to send shivers down the spines of shopping centre operators such as Westfield and Hammerson.

Hemingway, interviewed on the Today programme, when asked what would you do with struggling High Street, said, “Get rid of the term ‘High Street’.”

Hemingway said, “Town centres were always places of social interaction. I think it was a bit of an aberration were retail and shopping was seen as this thing called ‘retail therapy’.

“There is a societal change amongst a new generation who don’t see shopping as the be-all and end-all. I know, and I’m convinced, that shopping is a means to an end was an aberration.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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8 Responses to ‘Scrap the High Street’ says designer on Place Review Panel

  1. derekthrower says:

    So yet another media expert is making pronounements about society’s future, and no doubt trying to get his hand on public resources to operationalise this. Like with how Toby Young become an “expert” on education with his own schools after being a society journalist with a penchant for cocaine.

    We now have Hemingway, whose career launch was the Red or Dead fashion brand inspired by Russian peasant clothing. What he has in store for the peasants of Croydon is not known, but what a dysfunctional system we have when such egos appear to call the shots with public resources when other services are crying out for scarce resources.

  2. Mothercare today announced 50 stores are to close, with New Look having announced similar closure plans under a CVA – company voluntary arrangement which would allow them to shut loss-making shops and secure rental discounts. Landlords are said to be none too happy about the impact this will have on them; House of Fraser is struggling to get approval for its CVA and rental discounts, throwing doubt over whether the deal will go ahead. If isn’t forthcoming soon – the deadline is next month – their CVA might collapse, taking the company down and leaving the mall owners with huge holes in their properties and profits. Croydon’s reliance on retail is looking precarious now, and we face the prospect of TfL delivering white elephant road “improvements” just in time to enable people to drive to a ghost town centre.

  3. arnorab says:

    Whatever Wayne Hemingway’s background it is worth reading carefully what he says and not just dismissing it because he once designed apparel. It is now blindingly obvious that the whole face of retail trading is changing. People are falling out of love with shopping per se and in doing so in mega-malls, exciting phenomena of their times, like dinosaurs, but now quickly becoming extinct. High Streets, where they still exist, are mainly full of Betting Shops, cheap shops of one kind or another ( and even Poundland is moribund), charity shops and Chicken Shops. You go there because you have to, not because you want to. Nothing else seems to survive. Village High Streets still prosper but that is because the shops reflect the interests and skills of local residents: they are both social hubs and smallish level commercial enterprises. You go there because you want to, not because you have to.

    If you want two examples have a look at two A’s: Ayr in Scotland, once a thriving market town with man branches of big stores, a failed pedestrian scheme and now a total basket case. Then look at Addiscombe, just down the road: lots of local shops run by local people and supported by local people, not a “Grand Surface…in French….in sight, wonderful quality, great fresh food, greengrocey and butchers, one of the best in the country.

    It certainl looks as if we are, as others have said, destined to have the best transport system ever provided for a Ghost Town and Westfield is, to quote the late, great John Laurie, Doomed, Doomed, Doomed.

  4. derekthrower says:

    To a certain extent i agree with you, but aren’t you romanticising Addiscombe slightly. It has it’s fair share of charity shops,bookmakers,take aways,etc. It is the scale of how such outlets dominate an area and influence it’s appearance.
    People appear to be unaware of what has happened to the British economy. Economic productivity has effectively stagnated for a decade since the financial crisis. This has not happened for over a century. It means the country and the population is getting relatively poorer and no longer automatically experience real income growth. This is the single greatest influence on retail and the changes in electronic retailing simply exaggerate the resulting economic consequences. Until the State resolves the productivity issue the high street retail sector will be in recession. For the record our closest major economies France and Germany still continue to experience productivity growth. They have their problems but are not experiencing the potential decimation of many established retail businesses. The prounouncements of media egos and their futurlogical insights seem just rooted in the present and their own particular self interests.

  5. We don’t really disagree about the fundamentals and, yes, I am romanticising Addiscombe a bit (as did RF Delderfield), but why not?

    One has to ask why Addiscombe has managed to survive when, by all accounts, it should have become only a moribund morass of Charity and Betting shops like so many other places. The basic reason, at an Occam level, is that it serves people’s needs rather than only their wants and also gives a feeling of belonging to a community.

    Mega Malls, which prosper in boom times, can’t do that. More and more, too, people are unwilling to travel to shop. That’s one of the reasons why internet shopping is so popular. Its a pretty good model to be able to pop down to the local shops to get what you need for the moment and to use the internet for things that the local shops don’t stock.

    It is that evolution of shopping that will doom Westfield and its ilk.

    • David Mogoh says:

      Whilst we’re on the subject of Addiscombe… Leslie’s fruiterers has been closed for a week…. does anyone know what’s going on there???

  6. The concept behind Westfield and your traditional high street/shopping maul are very different.

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