A more flexible approach to planning has been demanded by a report which found Scotland’s high streets are at a critical stage and need to be reinvented.
Property company Colliers International called for innovative ideas to put the “heart” back into communities and give people a reason to return to their town centres.
It urged planning authorities to support a wider range of uses for retail premises in a bid to breathe new life into the high street.
The firm’s Midsummer Retail Report also encouraged high street retailers to “step up their game” to compete with large shopping malls.
Tom Johnston, director and head of retail with Colliers north of the border, said: “Scotland’s high streets are not dead but we’re at a critical stage and they need to be reinvented, and not just for retail.
“The next few years will determine the future of our high streets and we urgently need to create the right environment, which will allow these areas to find their new place in the community.
“For too long we’ve taken the heart out of these communities and as offices, schools, local government and retailers have dispersed, people no longer have a reason to come back.
“By providing a framework conducive to the rebuilding of the hearts of our communities, we can create affordable housing, family homes, leisure facilities, retail and other core services, such as medical and dental practices, that will create this momentum.
“However, this can only be achieved through a level-headed review of recent damaging changes to non-domestic rates policy, alongside a more flexible approach to planning. In particular, planning authorities must support a greater mix of uses. Without such moves and other innovative ideas, such as free parking weekends and compulsory purchase orders to kick-start such regeneration, we’re unlikely to see any significant inroads being made to restore our town centres.”
He added: “There are lessons to be learned for the high streets from prime covered malls. These have successfully positioned themselves as draw-destinations, by offering a wide range of uses, activities and events, beyond just retail, all of which are specifically designed to increase dwell time.”
The report, however, contained a number of positives. Looking at what is in store for UK retailers, it predicts a fall in the number of empty shops, from current levels of 12% of total floor space to about 7% by 2020.
Colliers also forecasts a “new wave” of retail development beginning in less than five years’ time, although it is expected to be largely focused in major retail centres.
Experts also predict that online sales will become less of a threat to the high street as time goes on.
John Duffy, head of in-town retail in Scotland for Colliers International, said: “High street vacancy rates are beginning to plateau and coupled with a slow-down in corporate failures, we expect a less negative impact on the high street than in recent years.
“Our research also suggests internet retailing will be flatlining at 20% of all non-food sales by 2020. As a result, online sales will no longer be as much of a threat to the high street, as successful retailers will by then have aligned their internet and property strategies.”