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The Challenge of Retail-Centric Town Centres

Marrons | Blog

Transforming Town Centres by Unlocking Sustainable Growth and Community Vitality

UK town centres have long focused around retail, offering a standard menu of national brands across clothing, home furnishings, and groceries. However, this approach fails to acknowledge the unique needs and opportunities of each town, resulting in a decline in foot traffic on high streets and a compromised quality of life for local residents. The recent acknowledgment by the Prime Minister of ’55 overlooked towns’ underscores the pressing need for change. The challenges facing many of our town and city centres cannot be underestimated – so what has gone wrong?

A lost Identity – a Copy and Paste Landscape

The retail-centric model has led to a loss of heritage and cultural identity in towns and high streets across the UK. Instead of celebrating local character and culture, many townscapes often resemble a ‘copy and paste’ pattern, failing to cater to the unique needs and aspirations of local communities.

The Unsustainability of the Anchor Tenant Model – Beyond Retail

While the retail-first approach has been a go-to strategy for so long, relying solely on ‘anchor tenants’ is not a sustainable long-term solution. The Grand Central development experience in Birmingham – where the defunct John Lewis store is being transformed into a mixed-use development – exemplifies the inherent risks and limitations of this retail model, emphasising the necessity for diversification and sustainable growth.

A Path to Sustainable Growth – Promoting Diversity

To ensure sustainable growth, there must be a focus on the diversity of town residents and their specific needs and aspirations. This involves tailoring infrastructure and land use to reflect the community, whether it’s high-quality later living developments for an ageing population or flexible working spaces for a dynamic workforce.

How a Cohesive Master Planning Approach is Key

A comprehensive solution lies in a more concerted and holistic approach to mixed-use urban regeneration and master planning. However, effective execution often faces challenges, especially in perceiving heritage assets as barriers rather than opportunities to enhance a town’s cultural identity.

Adapting to 21st Century Needs

In many places, buildings of either social or historical importance have slipped into disrepair due to their traditional use becoming untenable within that location. Through sympathetic restoration as part of a holistic master plan, they can be given a new sustainable purpose, whether for cultural, civic or leisure use.

While some envision a prosperous town centre rooted in nostalgia, we must align our vision with contemporary needs. Spaces catering to modern requirements, such as flexible working areas, healthcare, and later living facilities, hold the key to sustainable, lasting transformation.

It’s time to reimagine our town centres as vibrant, inclusive hubs that genuinely serve their local communities. By promoting diversity, preserving heritage, and adopting a cohesive approach, we can breathe new life into town centres, fostering sustainable growth and a stronger sense of community. Let’s champion this transformation and build a brighter future for all.

Find our comprehensive more than stores report here

Published: 15th November 2023
Area: Architecture

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Marrons is a multi-service development consultancy backed by the experience of working for local authorities, extensive market intel and connections across the industry.

About Marrons

Marrons is a multi-service development consultancy backed by the experience of working for local authorities, extensive market intel and connections across the industry - from planning offices and private landowners to housebuilders and retailers.

With expertise in Planning, Architecture, Design, Heritage and Economic Development, you can trust us to lead, protect and enhance the value of your land or building assets ensuring we turn your plans into reality.

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Whether you are looking for advice on an appeal for a major development scheme, or putting in an application for a house extension, we can help you navigate the best way forward.



Led by RIBA Chartered Architects, our Architects have wide-ranging experience in handling large scale projects through multi-disciplinary teams, often acting as project co-ordinators and design team leaders.



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Our heritage team proudly advocate for the role of heritage in sustainable place-shaping, and champion the value that heritage assets can bring to developments.


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Our specialist team works with you to provide evidence that your land or planning development has commercial benefits, and positively impacts socio-economics in the wider community.