The inaugural Welsh Retail Summit considered the findings of a new report on Wales’s top 71 cities and towns which reveals increasing polarization between the best and the worst of our high streets.
The report’s key findings were presented by Dr Scott Orford, WISERD, Cardiff University and Matthew Hopkinson, the Local Data Company, at Cardiff University on Wednesday 27 January. The research set out to look at the retail scale and make-up of Welsh towns and cities, to examine retail vacancy rates in town centres, as well as trying to explain some of the patterns found.
Dr. Scott Orford, Reader in Spatial Analysis and GIS, Cardiff University said “The Welsh vacancy rate has seen a decline in the past year for the first time since 2012, although this decline has been focused in towns rather than in cities. The mix of businesses is altering both in terms of independent and multiples and retail and leisure outlets. This reflects both local regeneration strategies and longer-term changes to the local economy and restructuring in towns and cities. There are broad regional differences in the trajectories of town and city centers, with centres in South Wales having much lower vacancy rates and a larger share of independent retailers than in other parts of Wales. Differing trajectories reflect a centre’s past retail legacy, but also its current assets and opportunities and the strategy and vision of their local management. We can identify these differing trajectories through the direction and strength of change in vacancy rates, number of premises, persistent vacancy, independent retailer proportions, charity shop penetration and the mix of types of retail businesses.
“Wales’s towns are a key component of national identity, attractiveness and prosperity – they help create vibrant and viable places. Understanding them more deeply is vital. The data here are one step in this process and show the variety of adjustments to new futures for our towns that are underway”
Matthew Hopkinson, Director at the Local Data Company said “Wales has consistently showed above average shop vacancy rates compared to England and Scotland. The local economy is a key driver of the health of town centres and this is challenging in parts of Wales where wage levels are low and unemployment rates high.
“Most recently this is evident with the job losses within the steel industry, a significant employer in South Wales. Whilst regeneration is taking place in parts, and vacancy rates have improved by 1%, there is a significant variance between the best performers where vacancy rates are at one in ten shops lying empty to others where one in three shops lie empty.
“Wales faces a challenging time as in many locations there are just too many shops and with the likelihood of reduced consumer spend brought on by rising unemployment and easier access to the prime centres then we can expect to see a decrease in retailer demand to occupy the many empty shops in more the challenged locations.”
Following the presentation of the research findings, delegates from a wide range of disciplines including academia, planning and the retail sector, took part in a question and answer session chaired by Professor Ian Rees Jones, Director of WISERD.
More information about the event is available here.