Many town and city centres in
the UK are undergoing dynamic changes. E-commerce, growing affluence, greater personal mobility & retail investment are all affecting consumer behaviour.
The national policy climate also has a
significant bearing on the fortunes of town centre retailing. Relaxation of planning controls in the 1980s resulted in the development of
(major centres purpose designed to cater for car-borne shoppers) in many parts of the country. As the growth in personal mobility continues these centres have become 'honeypots' for high spending shopping trips. These centres now draw people from 90 to 100 miles away. This is affecting the viability of businesses in the towns in their shadow.
A further significant factor is the amount of retail and transportation investment being made in the cities. These have the scale and strength of retail offer and other attractions which diminish consumers'
preoccupation with using cars. Consequently more people are prepared to accept the inconvenience and lack of comfort involved in using public transport for at least part of the journey. Furthermore
accessibility is being enhanced by the introduction of guided buses, super trams and the general upgrading of their mass transportation infrastructure.
Personal mobility has become an indispensable part of consumer
lifestyles but this conflicts with national policy which is increasingly focused on reducing car usage. Experience from the USA where car borne consumers deserted the 'downtown' areas shows that unless this
is handled very carefully restrictions will drive people from the high street and into the car parks of large and small carcentric locations.
There is therefore a need to monitor the health & vitality of
towns & cities in order to ensure that their economic vitality is not further undermined. The condition of the physical fabric and future character of towns is at stake.
The Lockwood Survey.
Since 1995 a series of research reports has been produced. The work had
its origins in a pioneering project based in Halifax West Yorkshire which in the late '80s & early '90s set about transforming the appearance of the town centre & marketing the town with a new image. A
monitoring exercise in 1993 showed this had made a significant impact on the trading performance of businesses and stimulated significant capital investment.
This work coincided with the introduction town centre
management schemes in many parts of the UK and the consequent need to evaluate their impact on the vitality and viability of towns. As a result a number of national companies with an interest in retailing and town
centre property agreed to sponsor the development of the research. The 2000 survey also benefited from the sponsorship of the DETR and Scottish Enterprise.
An important component of the research is the
confidential sales performance data for individual stores supplied by national retailers. The data is supplied on the strict understanding that their identities will not be revealed.
key feature is the collection of information about the myriad of potential factors which can affect the trading performance of businesses in a town centre. Early work focused on obtaining the combined views
of a few store managers. However the method used since 1998 has been to ask either the local chamber of commerce or the town centre manager to call a small panel together to complete a single questionnaire about
the centre. It is requested that the panels be composed of (i) an employer (on the basis that there was likely to be an awareness of the attitudes of employees to the town centre), (ii) a hotelier (to input the
reactions of visitors), (iii) a banker (who would be aware of the state of the independent business sector) and (iv) two retailers. In addition it was requested that where possible the Town Centre Manager
The aim is to obtain a consistently derived response from each centre representing a distillation of views from different business perspectives both from within and outside the centre. The
resulting comments should therefore be the joint views of the individuals who came together and should be regarded as indicative of local conditions rather than an empirical measurement of them.
The survey reports use this information to present an appraisal of each centre as a "snapshot" of their strengths, weaknesses and trading performance which allows
comparisons to be made with neighbours and competitors.
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