Welsh high street not dead, but changing fast – new WISERD retail report reveals

Mae'r cynnwys hwn ar gael yn Saesneg yn unig.

The second annual report from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) and the Local Data Company (LDC) reveals the contradictory dynamics of the retail landscape in Wales and how this has changed over the past year. It also highlights the wide variance and make-up of Welsh towns along with their individual trajectories.

The report will be launched and the detail dissected at the 2nd Welsh Retail and Leisure Summit, taking place at Cardiff University on the morning of Tuesday 24th January.

Highlights from the report, which will be discussed at the event are:

  • The number of empty shops in Wales fell in 2016, as it has for the past three years – although the rate of improvement is slowing.
  • The rate of shop vacancies in Welsh town centres has improved faster in Wales than in England or Scotland over the same period – yet still remains higher than in either.
  • Shopping centres in Wales have fewer empty shops than either English or Scottish centres – part of the reason that more town centre shops are vacant.
  • Concerted efforts at urban regeneration can be successful, as demonstrated by projects such as Friars Walk shopping centre in Newport – yet increased vacancy rates in surrounding areas can indicate that improvement in one place causes problems elsewhere.
  • The proportion of independent shops in Welsh towns is rising, contrary to popular belief, as this sector continues to demonstrate the value of its vitality to towns – yet the average percentage of independent shops in Welsh towns remains below that of Great Britain as a whole.
  • Shops that sell non-food products (finished goods) are being replaced by food, drink, entertainment and service outlets in Wales, as in  Scotland and England.
  • Charity shops and booze, money and gambling (BMG) outlets are not taking over locations in Wales as seen in the past – contrary to common perception.
  • Persistent vacancy among shops in Wales is not improving, with a stubborn rump remaining empty for three years or more – a clear indicator of oversupply. Planners need to consider changes of use more systematically and have a clear understanding of what a town can realistically sustain in the future.
  • Stability still reigns in many town centres in Wales which remain a key destination for their communities, especially with the rise of convenience shopping and an ageing population who value the interaction and engagement that local shops offer. However this may not hold forever as millennials prefer to shop online and they are rising in number and economic significance.

Matthew Hopkinson, Director at LDC commented: “Change in some of the towns is being helped by the reduction in the stock of redundant shops. This is no bad thing when shopping centres and retail parks are increasingly the key destinations for much consumer spend.”

He added: “The prospects for towns are clearly determined by the state of the local economy and the proximity of competing centres as people now travel further to destination locations as mundane shopping can be done from the comfort of your sofa via the internet.”

Dr. Scott Orford, Reader in Spatial Analysis and GIS and WISERD Data Research Co-ordinator, said: “There continues to be a clear relationship between local levels of deprivation and retail vacancy rates. In some towns nearly two-fifths of vacant premises have been empty for more than three years. New initiatives are needed in these places to bring these premises back into use.”

“Compared to last year, there has been an increase in independent retailers in some of towns with a noticeable rise in the more rural areas of Wales. Such a development is encouraging given the trend of some of the big retailers reducing their shop numbers and this may reflect consumers wanting something different on the high street from what they can get online.”