Thackeray Estates’ plans for Queen Victoria Street in Reading represent one of the most positive moves by a developer in the town centre in recent times.

At a time when plans for Reading’s empty gaol seem to be moving in the right direction and the House of Fraser and former Argos stores are moving towards much broader leisure-based alternative uses, along with food halls popping up in the Broad Street Mall and the former Lloyds Bank in Market Place, the demise of retail looks like more of a welcome revolution.

What is particularly significant about Thackeray’s plan is it opens up areas never previously available to the public so the amount of retail space in the town centre is increased and filled with independents.

How many years have people been crying out for just that, only to find retailers with the deepest pockets were favoured by landlords as a safer bet?

Similar mixes of uses are being talked of in Newbury, as we discovered in our spotlight on Newbury webinar where we also heard a new use for the former John Lewis shop is soon to be announced.

We observe, too, that out-of-town locations are seeing a change in the type of occupier. T A Fisher has let the former Bathstore unit at The Point on the A4 at Shepherds Hill to a veterinary practice where an experienced vet is launching what could be the first of a number under the Harrisons Health Clinic brand.

Nearby, the former Frankie & Benny’s restaurant has become a dermatology clinic. Physios and other health providers have been cropping up in Caversham too. The town’s first Vegan restaurant, Vegivores, has doubled in size during lockdown.

And if the changing face of our traditional retail were not clear enough, Oxford City Council has just approved a licence for a new Boom Battle Bar at which you will be able, not just to have a pint, but to take part in beer pong, crazy golf and axe-throwing.

‘What could possibly go wrong?’ you might ask.

But compare that to the 1980s where retail shops were making way for residential estate agents, and more recent years when the most likely new occupant of an empty unit would be a coffee shop operator, and you start to see a much more interesting high street.

If town centres continue to get more varied and to truly widen their appeal, then all those apartments and all those offices start to become more attractive too.

Or have we just left our rose-tinted glasses on? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.

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