29/08/2017 – The Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, Phil Prentice, has commented that the model of BHS-style department stores as a major feature of town centre shopping is being replaced by new forms of retail offer. The new retail mix often includes independent and niche stores, experience-based venues, and sites catering for the evening economy. 

Mr Prentice gave his analysis as part of an invited interview on BBC Radio Scotland’s John Beattie Show. STP’s Chief Officer was asked to discuss recent research by the Local Data Company which showed that in the year since British Home Stores (BHS) went into administration, more than half of its stores are still vacant.

Mr Prentice described this situation as part of a wider trend of bigger department stores moving to out-of-town locations, combined with a shift by consumers to online shopping. As a result, current retail space in town centres is often too large and needs to be “actively managed down”.

It was recalled that the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Action Plan helps to encourage different and non-traditional uses of retail space in town centres, such as housing, enterprise space, cultural venues and evening economy sites. Therefore, while retail will always be a part of the town centre, the issue is which types of shops will service these important community hubs.

STP’s Chief Officer mentioned that changing trends are captured in annual reports by the Local Data Company and Stirling University’s Institute of Retail Studies. These show that over the past three years, there has actually been a reduction in the number of vacant units in Scotland. At the same time, it can be observed that new types and combinations of retail are being found in towns, and this shift must be actively managed to ensure town centres continue to flourish in the coming period.

The full interview can be listened to hear from 1:23:40 here.

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