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Breaking point: Our experts on whether the high street will ever recover, and how far it could fall

Will the high street ever recover? Our experts discuss. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Will the high street ever recover? Our experts discuss. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

A retail empire which once saw customers queuing out of its doors was this week forced to sit down with its landlords and ask to be saved.

Shoppers shopping in the high street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYShoppers shopping in the high street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Arcadia's boss Sir Philip Green met with landlords of his stores to negotiate a series of company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), to enable his company to continue trading.

And seeing one of the high street's biggest retail groups struggling has set off some of the largest warning sirens yet on the British retail scene.

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The high street outlook has wobbled in recent years. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe high street outlook has wobbled in recent years. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Experts say that although the high street will not collapse, it will continue to decline for the foreseeable future.

Ratula Chakraborty is a professor of business management at the University of East Anglia.

Prof Chakraborty said: "The high street is declining but not failing. As more consumers shop online then there is less need to go to physical stores. The online shopping trend is set to increase further as home delivery becomes faster and better.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID . Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID . Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018

"Further decline in the high street is inevitable, but many shoppers will continue to use physical stores for years to come."

She continued: "Arcadia is struggling like other high street fashion stores, facing declining sales but having to pay high rents to landlords. Unless landlords agree to lower shop rents then all high street retailers will struggle for survival."

Another fashion brand which has this way clinched a CVA deal with landlords is Select, which went into administration in May.

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However, Select has not had the same issues with branding that Arcadia has.

Prof Chakraborty believes that Mr Green's sexual harassment allegations may have contributed to the consumer's hesitance to shop with Arcadia.

"Brands takes years to build up but can come crashing down in an instant," Prof Chakraborty said. "Unfortunately, Philip Green is synonymous with Arcadia, so when his personal brand image becomes badly tarnished then so does Arcadia's.

"However," she added, "As long as Arcadia can offer the right clothes at the right prices then it should have a good future, but if so then it might well become a takeover target to break the link with Philip Green."

Luckily for Norwich, the city's Business Improvement District team began planning for the high street of the future more than a decade ago.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID, said that his team began research into making the city centre more agile after the recession of 2008.

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"We wanted to start looking at the high street of the future and make sure Norwich was agile enough to react to changing consumer demands," Mr Gurney said.

The BID conducted research into the flow and spending patterns in London Street, which informed decisions about which shops needed to be added to the line-up and how best to market it.

"It's because of this that Norwich isn't a clone city and we don't have the big, toothless gaps that other cities around Britain have," he said. "We're already looking at Norwich in 2040 and planning how the city will look then."

Mr Gurney believes the high street will never return to the hayday of the 80s and 90s, where retail dominated city centres.

Instead, he believes that residential and enterprise hubs will join the high street, as well as marketing-lead initiatives for previously online stores.

One example is Amazon, which has recently announced stores across the UK to have a physical presence on the high street.

"It's already worked for companies like Apple," Mr Gurney said. "And that's a business which you think would operate solely online. I think companies like Google will start to have more of a physical representation - even if just for marketing and click and collect purposes."

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