British towns should follow a pioneering Belgian town and invest both “emotionally and financially” in their retail and public spaces in an effort to save the high street, the authors of an upcoming report have said.
The taskforce behind the Grimsey Review 2 – commissioned to help revive Britain’s high streets – made the observations following a recent study tour of the Belgian town of Roeselare.
The European city, which has seen 30 new shops opening in the past three years, has become one of the only destinations to adopt recommendations put forward in the first Grimsey Review, released five years ago. The report findings were largely ignored in the UK.
One of seven report authors, and co-founder of data analysis company Didobi, Matthew Hopkinson said Roeselare’s efforts were working because the city has a plan backed by retailers and residents alongside “significant political support and leadership from the mayor”.
“In the UK, people talk a good story about how it’s terrible shops are closing, but they still spend their money elsewhere. The aim is to get them to buy-in emotionally and financially into the town’s high street,” said Mr Hopkinson.
He added Roeselare has been successful because it has developed a vibrant core encompassing retail and services, and created several attractions in and around it, such as a knowledge centre, event spaces and green spaces.
“Organisers also offered low business rates to encourage people to open shops, and landlords who allow shops to remain empty are fined. There is also a gift card only valid in Roeselare.
“The intent is to make it accessible, pleasing and a nice place to be, instead of purely functional,” added Mr Hopkinson.
Meanwhile, Roeselare’s mayor, Kris Declercq, told ITV News he had been very inspired by the first Grimsey review. “I needed some big reforms and shock therapy for our shop owners,” he said.