There’s nothing grim about our plans for the high street

COMMENT: In January of this year (coming up to five years since the phenomenally successful Grimsey 1 report, An Alternative Future for the High Street, was published) Bill Grimsey – veteran retailer and all-round tour de force – sounded out some of his original team to see if we were game to write another report. 

So much has changed in the retail terrain – and elsewhere – that it seemed timely. And then it became even more timely!

The new report will be published in the summer, in the wake of the recent onslaught of CVAs, administrations and closures. It seems to be nothing short of carnage… 

I was deeply proud to have worked on the first Grimsey review so I did not need to be asked twice to be associated with his work again.

Grimsey 1 may have had its flaws (and at 31 recommendations, we may well have tried to tackle too much) but it remains the very best blueprint ever produced for the successful future of any high street.

And I say this as a true “disgruntled regeneration practitioner” who has been around this debate for the best part of three decades.

 So on Monday, 12 March, to coincide with MIPIM, Grimsey announced that we were embarking on another review, snappily known as “Grimsey 2”, with something of a “call for friends” in the property and retail sectors. And we seem to have struck a nerve. 

As two members of Grimsey 2 (Chris Shellard and myself) boarded our plane for the French Riviera that Monday morning, Grimsey was all over the broadcast and print media here in Blighty, whipping up a storm in his inimitable style.

And he certainly seems to have captured the imagination, if anything even more powerfully than last time. 

Which I guess is hardly surprising, given the carnage we have experienced (and continue to experience) and the inescapable structural shifts in retail that we are seeing.

Grimsey and his gang of geeky specialists (think the Addams family on amphetamines) have definitely tapped into a zeitgeist. 

No pressure at all. 

Shellard and I found ourselves much in demand at MIPIM, in all the events and all the bars, to talk about Grimsey 2. Actually, I found it hard to get anyone to talk to me about anything else! And the goodwill was palpable.

We were inundated with offers of support, ideas, suggestions of case studies and directions in which to travel.

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, immediately signed up to trial the new report in one of his area’s beleaguered high streets over the summer. 

Everyone wishes to address what impact Grimsey 1 had, what has changed since the review, and what should be done now to better prepare high streets and town centres for the 21st century.

And it is hardly surprising that the property sector, with so much at stake here, is anxious to find the answers. And to work out the future paradigm for its significant investments.

So Grimsey and team set a hare running at MIPIM. Shellard and I struggled to keep up.

And follow-up meetings have been organised with countless organisations and individuals keen to help. Foremost among these have been the BPF and Revo, which have been invaluable – super-generous with all the expertise and networks at their disposal.

Property’s leading journal, EG, has been appointed as data contributor to Grimsey 2

EG’s head retail analyst, James Child, is energetically leading the research effort.

His remit includes data and analysis on the performance on the high street over the past five years, looking at how the average shop has changed and planning activity in the regions.

The research will include EG’s analysis on the effects of e-commerce on industrial and logistics space and what type of warehouses are being occupied.

Crucially, it will also examine whether the recent flurry of council investment activity helps or hinders the rejuvenation of shopping districts, as Grimsey 2 will be seeking to put this work front and centre with the local government sector, alongside the property and retail industries.  

So it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say we made a cracking start on Grimsey 2 during MIPIM week. 

And much has happened since. It is a bit of a whirl.

Our thanks to all of those countless souls who have stepped forward to support us.

Sadly, we will not be able to invent a magic wand here (and thankfully nobody seems to be expecting this) but it will do us no harm truly understand what is going on and to plan properly for a future for our high streets and town centres. A future which is not predicated on chain stores, or indeed on retail at all, but which nonetheless still has economic development and community activity at its heart.

To send feedback, e-mail or tweet @jackiesadek or @estatesgazette