'High St.' sign, overgrown. Photo from piqsels.com

Impact of Covid-19 crisis on the UK leisure property market

One of the biggest debates as we ease out of lockdown and come to terms with the new normal has revolved around how to revive high streets across the country, which have taken a huge hit in recent months as most shops and all bars, restaurants, pubs, theatres, music venues and cultural buildings were forced to close their doors.

The high street was struggling in a big way even before the pandemic hit, but the economic effects of coronavirus and the knock to consumer confidence could potentially prove devastating to an industry which employs a large chunk of people and plays a key role in the UK economy.

While non-essential retail has been allowed to open since June 15, and pubs, restaurants and bars will follow from July 4, could it be the case that we will see more retail to resi conversions in the near future? Will the high street represent an opportunity for residential property investors as alternative solutions to high street units are sought?

We caught up with Preston Benson, the American-born founder of Really Local Group, the team behind the transformation of Catford Mews, for his thoughts on what the high street will look like after coronavirus, whether localism and community will become more important than ever and why property investors should consider hidden gems.

What will the high street look like post-pandemic? Will there be an increase in office/retail to resi conversions as high street chains and shops struggle with low footfall and Covid-19-related financial issues?

Sadly, things will get worse before they get better as the pandemic has accelerated trends underway pre-Covid-19, with a further shift to shopping online and resulting ‘hollowing out’ of the high street.

Middle-market brands offering no differentiation, and private equity-backed businesses who over-expanded will continue to close. In the medium to long-term, we can expect to see a smaller/more compact high street with a wider range of uses, including residential and office. Eventual lower rents and rates will allow local entrepreneurs to colonise the remaining vacant retail and flourish!

Will there be an increase in localism, as more people seek to shop local (beer, wines, food, coffee, other goods) and socialise locally?

Before Covid-19, there was already a strong trend to shop at and support local businesses. The recent lockdown has accelerated this, with consumers being ‘forced’ to shop local due to travel restrictions, and many discovering and exploring local businesses on their doorstep for the first time…

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