The high street of the future

November 5, 2019

Newcastle architecture practice ADP is helping to revitalise the high street into a place for health, happiness and where the experience economy can thrive

Much is made of the demise of the high street, as major chain stores struggle to deal with the fundamental changes in the way we transact.

Soundbites give the impression that the high street is dying, and can only be saved if landlords and councils are benevolent. Years
of consumerism made retail the favourite of investors and town planners: almost by stealth, our once rich and vibrant town centres appealed to just a small section of society – and were often indistinguishable from each other.

A lack of housing was accompanied by a lack of almost any facilities that would make a place liveable, and town centres became unattractive, unsafe, and nearly uninhabitable between 6pm and 9am.

Emerging opportunities

The good news is that transactions other than the sale of goods – including performance, education, healthcare, fitness, craft and countless others – are now returning. Invariably, our high streets are the best connected places we have, and current challenges provide landlords, communities, businesses, cities and architects with a rare opportunity to recapture the rich, dense, vibrant and valued places they once were. Newcastle-based architecture practice ADP is working with developers, funds and asset managers to explore how best to convert retail property. Often, upper levels once used for storage provide residential opportunities, and as voids inevitably open and tenants look for deals, leftover space becomes – in relative terms – more valuable.

ADP director and urban designer Graeme Feechan reflects: “The introduction of residential properties in these areas is often challenging in planning terms, including the provision of suitable access, privacy, daylight, amenity and environmental separation, but the incentives in terms of stabilising investments, lengthening the hours of activity and increasing footfall for the businesses that remain are considerable.”

Health is moving to the high street too, and ADP has been active across the UK, creating everything from Wellbeing Hubs (combining health and leisure facilities) to dental surgeries – filling space in buildings previously occupied by select high street brands.

The team, led by Newcastle director Amrit Naru, is currently working on more than 20 schemes for local dental provider NEO Orthodontics Ltd.

A new approach by NHS England to commissioning services has enabled NEO to redevelop properties across the south of England, in locations such as Sevenoaks, Banstead, Folkestone and Rye. The dental provider is delivering orthodontic services from the high street – on the doorstep of thousands of patients in the south of England.

Sunil Mehra, head of real estate at NEO Orthodontics Ltd, says: “Launching multiple practices simultaneously from scratch is a challenging task but especially over such a large geographic area. Therefore, assembling the right team was critical to our success. ADP partnered seamlessly with our key advisors to ensure that mobilisation was plain sailing from concept to construction.”

Out-of-town retail park owners have also responded to the challenges by aggressive diversification, finding new combinations of activities and 24-hour uses to bolster their retail parks.

Destination shopping centre Lakeside, Thurrock, for example, is currently building a multi-million-pound leisure complex.

The original shopping centre was the first out-of-town retail venue to be built in Essex, way back in October 1990, and owners intu are now adding a flagship Hollywood Bowl, American diner and trampoline park.

Alongside these, ADP is delivering the fit-out of a Nickelodeon Centre at Lakeside – the first of its kind in the UK and spread across 50,000 sq ft of space. The centre launches this autumn and will contain a variety of interactive adventure zones, divided into different areas and featuring popular characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and many more.

The scheme has been delivered in partnership with The Parques Reunidos Group (PRG), one of the leading leisure park operators in the world. ADP is supporting the Spanish PRG team in the UK.

Martin Breeden, development director at into says: “We’re excited to be able to bring together the best-in-class family entertainment concept and combine this with an established shopping and dining destination to create an experience that is unmatched in the UK today.”

Mixed-use and mindful

Wellbeing has risen to the top of almost every agenda, and collocating services creates both efficiencies and opportunities. Combining multiple GP surgeries under one roof enables services and spaces to be centralised; teaming up medical facilities with leisure services creates a pathway between diagnosis, treatment and aftercare. Communities are created.

For several towns in the south east, new Wellbeing Centres are in development that deliver precisely that.

Delivered through the Clear Sustainable Futures Partnership (CSF), the projects have brought a fresh perspective to ADP’s thinking on healthy cities and healthy minds.

So much so that a new research project is in development, identifying just what makes a ‘mindful estate’.

Amrit reflects: “As a national practice we’re supported by dedicated sector specialists
in all our key work areas – not least health, higher education and schools. It’s the perfect opportunity to combine their skills and insight to evaluate both what makes an estate work well, and how we build wellness into the estate.”

The team is currently working with third sector partners to scope the project, with more detail to come in 2020.


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