There are a number of reasons for this, none more so than the rapid transformation of consumer demands. Visitors to city centres now seek a different experience. For the high street to thrive, it needs to adapt and it needs to adapt quickly, as The Yorkshire Post’s Love Your High Street campaign demonstrates.
The responsibility of reviving the high street does not fall at one person’s door. It needs the long-term support of residents, government, investors and local authorities. Above all, the high street has to meet multiple needs within a well presented package.
In Hull we have identified key changes that need to be made in order to draw people back to the city centre, and back on to the high street. These plans are available to view online at www.investhull.co.uk and were on display at Hull’s Trinity Market, which is itself proof of what can be achieved. Following a £3m refurbishment, the market is once again a thriving community of traders, so much so that the market and neighbouring Hepworth’s Arcade have been shortlisted in this year’s Great British High Street Awards.
There is no reason why, with the correct strategy and investment, this success cannot be replicated throughout the city centre. It’s joined-up long-term thinking – a clear strategy that will revive our high street and city centre.
The plans include a rapid increase in city centre living that would see as many as 2,500 homes built because successful city centres and high streets need people and need footfall, reversing the post-war trend of ‘hollowing out’.
People’s shopping habits have changed, but so has our city’s unique assets. We need to capitalise and meet people’s lifestyle choices. The plans also outline key opportunities to further develop high-quality jobs in the city centre with quality employment areas.
The council has acquired a key site in the heart of Hull and is now promoting a mixed-use £130m development through partnership that will offer retail, leisure and apartments. This huge Albion Square development will also feature a high-quality ice arena, situated right in the centre of Hull, further generating footfall and spend.
Millions has been invested in the city’s cultural and leisure offering – something that was accelerated when Hull was awarded its UK City of Culture status in 2017. This event proved that, if you give people a reason to visit the city centre, they will come and stay.
Hull New Theatre underwent a £16m refurbishment last year and the Ferens Art Gallery saw record visitor numbers in 2017 when 519,000 people visited the art gallery following a £5m investment, and this year’s figures are continuing to surpass expectations.
Earlier this year we opened the Bonus Arena, a 3,500 capacity entertainment and conference venue. The fabric of the city has also been transformed with the £25m investment in our public realm. The project has completely revitalised key areas in the city centre, streets and squares, providing a world-class centre which increases people’s dwell time.
Work has commenced on a fantastic footbridge over the A63. As well as easing traffic on this key road for access in and out of Hull, the bridge will finally connect Hull Marina – which itself has been transformed in the last decade with massive amounts of investment – and the city centre. This connectivity is key in our plans to reinvigorate the city centre as a whole. The Fruit Market area and C4DI are leading waterfront developments, increasing the demand for city centre living and creating the hub for our digital smart city.
The most ambitious project to increase visitors to the city centre is the plan to build a cruise terminal. From the terminal, the heart of the city will be just a 10 minute walk away, allowing passengers to easily explore our city as well as using Hull as a gateway to the whole of Yorkshire and the North.
High streets need the support of people, councils and investors if they are to thrive. The nature of the high street is changing but this doesn’t mean that the high street will, or should, die.
Through understanding, adaptation and reaction, city centres and high streets will flourish once again.
Mark Jones MBE is Hull City Council’s regeneration director.