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This study provides rigorous, up-to-date research relating to the impacts of small-store corporate food retail entry within a cross-section of five small towns in southern England.

The aims of the study were threefold:

  • To build upon the University of Southampton’s major ‘before/after’ study of the impacts of large format in-centre or edge-of-centre foodstore development on ‘Market Towns & District Centres’ (2010)  and to move forward the highly-polarised policy debates surrounding the impact of foodstore entry on town centres in the UK.
  • To investigate how new-generation corporate convenience stores (‘Express’, ‘Local’ or similar) opened in-centre, affect the existing retail composition of those town centres – providing new evidence on the trip generation, anchor potential and linked trip characteristics associated with the new stores.
  • To enrich, on the basis of evidence-based research, the often polarised policy debates relating to corporate entry into convenience store sector which have developed over the past decade. Specifically by: (a) providing evidence on the ‘relocalisation’ of food shopping and reduction in car dependency which has accompanied that entry; (b) by considering community responses to in-centre openings of such stores, and (c) by examining the extent of the, as yet little documented, trip generative potential of the stores. That is to say, the extent to which these small stores might have similar capacity to that recently observed in the case of larger format ‘in-‘ or ‘edge-of-centre’ foodstores to  ‘anchor’ the existing retail offer of the centres in which they open, supplementing and enhancing rather than detracting from the diversity associated with small and specialist independent shops.

The research reported is particularly timely to current debates on the health of UK High Streets and the recommendations of the Portas Review (2011). For example, the summary of available research underlying the Portas Review ‘Understanding High Street Performance’ (2011), commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills group (BIS) from a group of property and planning consultancies lead by Genecon, suggests that the positive benefits of ‘in-centre’ corporate retail development which result from higher footfall might be offset by potentially damaging impacts on existing small independent store diversity. However, there are important gaps in the evidence base on which that view is advanced and this study goes some way towards providing the type of linked-trip and retail compositional change evidence necessary to address those issues.

The findings of this study were presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Town Centres on the 21st of November 2012. Click HERE for a copy of the presentation. You can download the Study Summary Booklet for the event HERE.

You can click on the report icon on the right, for a FREE COPY of the executive summary of the report. You can click HERE if you want a FREE COPY the full report.

This project was based on a major three-year, two-region, before/after study of the impacts of foodstore developments on UK market towns and district centres. The aims of the study were to move forward highly-polarised policy debates, which have focused on and disputed the nature of such impacts, on the basis of findings obtained from a rigorously designed and executed, before/after investigation, conducted during 2007-09 by a research team from the University of Southampton. Specifically the study was designed to reflect the store development consequences of more than a decade of refocused retail planning regulation – regulation which from 1996 onwards has prioritized a ‘town centres first’ approach to retail development and enjoyed strong cross-party political support. In particular, the study represents a much needed revisit of the findings of the influential, but increasingly outdated, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) report on the same topic - The Impact of Large Foodstores on Market Towns and District Centres (DETR, 1998) -  which summarised case study research essentially completed in the pre-PPG6 era. That is to say, there was a growing need by the late 2000s to revisit and update the DETR commissioned research to reflect the consequences of the decade of more flexible ‘town centre oriented’ foodstore developments which followed the implementation of PPG6 and the ‘sequential test’ in 1996.

The Southampton study is timely for two major reasons. First, because research on this topic since the publication of the DETR report has been limited in quantity, scope and depth – giving rise to a situation where policy debates have run dangerously ahead of an increasingly outdated evidence base. Secondly, because the 2009 planning policy guidance outlined in PPS4 Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth (DCLG, 2009), and articulated in the G V A Grimley-produced ‘good practice guide’ which accompanies PPS4, has reiterated and underlined the importance of ‘impact’ assessment to the consensus ‘town centres’ first’ approach to retail development.

The findings of the study  were presented at the British Property Federation 'Supporting economic growth through planning reform' Seminar on the 2nd of December 2010. Click HERE for a copy of the presentation.

You can click on the report icon on the right, for a FREE COPY of the executive summary of the report. You can click HERE if you want to purchase the full report.


In his article for The Grocer (6th October 2012) Kevin Hawkins, independent retail consultant and ex-director of BRC reviews the market Towns and District Centers research project and poses the question: ‘do the costs of food store development in town centres outweigh the benefits?’ Commending the research as ‘throwing valuable light on local (town centre) dynamics’, the article provides a short synopsis of the key findings, which have shown that ‘new generation’, planning policy compliant, corporate foodstore entry have had a positive impact on the town and district centres within which they have entered. You can click on the icon on the left to download the article.




This project seeks to produce a forward-looking and agenda-setting academic study which will evaluate alternative visions of the future of UK high streets, and explore how they have evolved and may evolve in the future.

The significant viability challenges which lie ahead for the UK’s high streets and town centres- the shock wave of global economic crisis, the decade-long rise of online retailing,  the ongoing pressures from out-of-town shopping centres - has prompted increasing alarm about the economic health of our town centres. As a result, the future of UK high streets has been placed high on the agenda of current policy debates. The Government Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) together with the economic development consultancy firm Genecon LLP & Partners produced  Understanding High Street Performance report, published December 2011 in conjunction with the Portas Review – an independent review of UK high streets undertaken by leading retail marketing consultant Mary Portas.

Building up and out from the government response, the aim of the project is to explore alternative visions of UK high streets and provide a forward looking and agenda-setting by:

  • exploring the various ways in which town centres and high streets show resilience by adapting and evolving
  • considering how high streets might best be supported by future policy interventions
  • engaging widely with the retail industry in order to gauge opinion on this highly topical debate

Meeting the urgent need for a finer-grained understanding of the ecologies of UK high streets, selective exploratory case-study analysis at urban area level will be conducted as part of the ‘High Street Futures’ project, to help generate new knowledge about the widely differing performances of retail centres.

In this context, and building out from novel research on the differential performances of high streets across the UK following the shock wave of the global economic crisis, Professor Neil Wrigley and Les Dolega have explored the concept of ‘resilient high streets’ in their 2011 Environment & Planning A paper – ‘Resilience, fragility, and adaptation: new evidence on the performance of UK high streets during global economic crisis and its policy implications. Their paper offers empirical evidence on the differential performance of a sample of over 250 town centres/high streets in four regions of the UK as those centres adjusted to the shock wave of global economic crisis.  In particular, they offer novel insight into the positive impact of two factors—‘diversity’ of a centre’s pre-existing retail structure and ‘town-centres-first’ policy-compliant ‘in-centre’ or ‘edge-of-centre’ corporate-foodstore entry.


The importance of the 'High Street Futures' project is highlighted at the Autumn Issue of ESRC’s Society Now magazine, where it is explained how this project - in conjunction with other ESRC initiatives (like ESRC's Retail Knowledge Navigators) - are helping to strengthen the scientific evidence base and enable the UK retail sector to exploit academic research. You can click on the icon on the left to download the Society Now 2012 Autumn Issue.




The latest issue of ESRC’s Britain 2013 features an article where Neil Wrigley and Michelle Lowe consider the various ways social science can contribute to current debates on the future of UK high streets, placing these in the context the University of Southampton ‘High Street Futures’ project. They suggest that social science can contribute to these debates by providing: (a) insights into the marked variation in performance of town centres in response to the global economic crisis; (b) insights into how differences in performance are affected by scale –regional, local, urban (for instance: do factors that offer protection at a regional level remain the same at the scale of a single city, or do new drivers come into play?); (c) a theoretically informed conceptual framework for understanding the longer-term, evolving configurations and performance of high streets (d) up-to-date and robust evidence & theory-based insights to inform policy.

The article concludes by considering what constitutes ‘adaptively resilient’ high streets of the future. It is suggested that the ‘core’ of an ‘adaptively resilient’ high street is likely to involve (among other factors) ‘complementarity’ with online retail and a symbiotic relationships between small, independent shops – particularly ‘local heroes’ – and corporate retailers.


For more information about the project, please visit the High Street Futures website.