COMMENT: In this period of post-pandemic shock, there is a growing sense that our experience of Covid-19 must revolutionise something.
Town centres and high streets will likely be near the front of the queue in receipt of post-Covid benefits, and it feels as though the time is right. If so, and we do see a new age of investment (financially and emotionally), we might also witness the resurrection of our towns and cities.
But although Covid-19 may well bring about a revolution in our towns and cities, it will need stakeholders with real ambition and drive to achieve the potential that is there.
Here are aspirational and slightly less idealistic perspectives from Shoosmiths colleagues on the challenges facing our towns and cities as we bid to make urban Britain rise again.
Aspiration – Busy high streets, packed-out retail parks, online shopping with local collection depots. Retail and leisure are turned into a truly joined-up experience with a focus on community space, reigniting a passion for the physical shopping experience.
Reality – Shopping centre landlords have been hit hard, as have retailer tenants unable to negotiate rent deals with their landlords. No trading income has made for a tough few months, and while those with an online offering have continued to trade, gyms, restaurants and pubs are desperate to get customers back through their doors. However, social distancing will likely impact physical presence trade for some months yet.
Alexandria Kittlety, partner
Aspiration – The urban living renaissance is extended to families and the older generation, whose bespoke needs are better catered for in developments. Residential accommodation is designed with sustainability, health and wellbeing in mind, with thought as to how living interacts with working and playing and the local economy. A holistic approach to regeneration is taken by developers and local authorities, creating spaces that encourage a wider sense of community.
Reality – Wholescale regeneration needs a long-term vision and huge investment, which can be lacking in smaller high streets. With the right focus, however, developers and communities could deliver long-term regeneration through smaller well-considered projects which conform to a wider vision.
Catherine Williams, partner
Aspiration – Less commuting, a more evenly-spread use of our transport infrastructure and flexible working patterns would reduce the peak pressures on our transport systems and allow for the reclamation of roads for pedestrianisation, the creation of new public spaces, a cleaner environment and redesigned workspaces.
Reality – The introduction of initiatives including cycle lanes, e-scooter sharing schemes and fully-integrated transport systems will be accelerated. However, in the short-term there are challenges over how people can embrace shared transport in a socially distanced manner, and longer-term over how we reduce our reliance on cars whilst avoiding trains and trams at peak times. Is it time for more carrot and less stick?
Daniel Monaghan, partner
Aspiration – A renewed emphasis by developers and landowners on the creation of long-term, sustainable capital growth through prosperity for communities. Tenants and lease terms (including rents) tailored to business types, enabling local businesses to thrive alongside national chains. Investors acknowledged as custodians of a finite resource and truly invested landowners working with public bodies and community groups to create urban centres with local flavour.
Reality – Covid-19 is forcing investors to focus on tenants and their underlying business models. Arrangements linking rental values with business performance are increasingly prevalent in the retail sphere, and landlords are more receptive to personal arrangements with occupiers, a trend that is likely to continue. The concept of placemaking isn’t new, but questions remain over whether developers and investors are ready to take a leap of faith (which may involve forgoing short-term income) to create truly local urban centres. With the focus of many investors currently on income generation, this could be a big ask.
Catherine Hood, partner
Aspiration – A raft of successful public/private collaborations to revive towns and cities, creating vibrant sustainable environments for working and living, with stakeholders on both sides sharing risk and government playing a part in bringing forward developments through funding, grants and streamlining planning processes. Local authorities sharing their visions of what towns and cities should look like, collaborating with developers, investors and local communities to ensure shared ownership of projects.
Reality – In the short term, the public and private sectors will be busy dealing with the impact of Covid-19 generally and, although there will be interested stakeholders, any unlocking of opportunities will take time to get everyone on board, evaluate and structure transactions and obtain funding.
Choisanne Man, partner