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Christy’s experience working for Threeesixty Architecture has revolved around retail and leisure-based projects, and over the course of the past 12 months the practices’ work has shifted towards the challenges, relationships and opportunities that High Street Shopping Centres pose for struggling High Streets across the whole of the UK.

Christy’s professional experience and personal interest in the issue of town centre regeneration led her to reflect on the solutions considered in some of the projects she has worked on and prompted her to further understand and research the context of this problem and associated challenges.

In her final year at university, Christy’s Master’s thesis focused on the issue of vacant retail space in the context of failing High Streets.  The main objective of the study was to research and consider if struggling High Street Shopping Centres, a key contributor to the failure of High Street, overtime can be the catalyst for regeneration of town centres through repurposing, refurbishment and redevelopment. 

Media coverage of recent High Street vacancies and closures

 By analysing five failing Scottish High Streets, it was demonstrated that retail space is dominating town centres.  This factor, in addition to the retail sector struggling in the current economic climate and further closures predicted for the future, is a major contributor in the greater context of failing High Streets. 

A literary review of strategies and toolkits demonstrated how Government and local authorities are trying to tackle this UK wide challenge and present some strategies (through policies and toolkits) to address this.  However, one of the main problems with the proposed approaches is implementation, as these authorities lack control over significant factors to influence regeneration. 

Use class analysis of Falkirk High Street and The Howgate Shopping Centre

Within this context, the thesis focused on the issue of increasing vacancies as an obvious indicator of the High Street’s decline as well as the potential opportunity.  Use class analysis conducted established that the majority of vacant space on the High Street are retail units.

The study raised the question of what to do with the vacant space if retail will no longer replace itself as it has in previous decades. One answer and opportunity offered by the Government and local authorities’ policies and strategy who advocate for greater diversity in the town centres.  However, despite vacancies being available, diversity is slow in developing.  The thesis argues that there is insufficient critical mass on the High Street to bring meaningful change through development. 

Therefore, the study analyses and proposes that High Street shopping centres, can be the opportunity and catalyst for change through the repurposing, refurbishment and redevelopment of the whole asset. These assets have the critical mass to introduce significant diversity to rebalance the use classes on the High Street. 

Participants of town centre regeneration diagram