The high street is not dead and Covid might has helped it develop quicker, guests at our round table were told.

The event, on January 27 at the offices of Haslams Estate Agent in Reading, brought together a mix of property expertise including David Jones from planning consultancy Evans Jones.

He was asked if he thought the high street is now dead. He said: “I don’t think it’s dead. We are seeing that contraction. In a lot of towns and cities we are seeing the higher quality operators move far closer to the retail core and other operators take over on the outskirts.

“That, in a lot more areas, is what we will see. I think there’s a tonne more to do in terms of making towns and cities more attractive and driving footfall and residential and commercial is all part of that big equation.

“I think there are far more positive signs now than there were mid-Covid when things were looking pretty low and people were saying it’s a haemorrhaging, the high street’s dead. It’s changing and it needed to change.

“One of the advantages is it’s got everybody thinking about how it needs to change in fairly short order. Whereas, with no pandemic, it would have just bled on for another five to 10 years.”

UK Property Forum managing director Matthew Battle asked if the empty department stores are still a concern.

Mr Jones said: “They are but I’ve got clients willing to take those on. But not necessarily for retail in its traditional form. The day of the department store has gone and it isn’t coming back.

“Debenhams in Gloucester has been bought by the university and they are creating a big uni hub in the centre of the retail sector. It’s fantastic and that drives footfall – and footfall is what every town and city centre needs to enable retail to survive.

“Cavendish House in Cheltenham is a dying beast, and I’m working with clients to bring that forward as a residential retail scheme.”

Different uses of vacant retail are helping relieve shortages of demand in other sectors.

Head of office for Savills Reading Phil Brown said: “In Oxford there’s a great opportunity for lab space and life sciences.”

Mr Jones said the change also allows independent retailers to get closer to the central core of towns at an affordable rate.

He added: “That’s my great hope, that we don’t still have those monolithic town centres.”

The line up (l-r in image below):

Steve Woodford, managing director, Haslams

Mike Shearn, chief operations officer, Haslams

Charles Bushe, director, DevComms

Laura Fitzgerald, director, mode Transport

Joanne Bruce, marketing manager, Evans Jones

Matthew Battle, managing director, UK Property Forums

Brian Dowling, partner, Boyes Turner

David Jones, managing director, Evans Jones

Phil Brown, head of office, Savills Reading

Jo Jackson, director Thames Valley, SEGRO

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