Think Tank Articles

The Higher Street

Demise of the High Street

The never-ending struggles of the High Street are well documented, and the theories as to why they are declining and how the problems can be addressed are boundless.

It is often easy to forget the potential useable areas overhead. This ‘Higher Street’ could be one or more storeys of misused or even unused rooms just a few metres above the thoroughfare.

In some instances however, the potential of these additional uses are being explored. These spaces could be offered at reduced rates, and so long as access and planning issues can be resolved there is opportunity to double the high street.

There is also no reason why these spaces can’t become small offices for start-up businesses, studio or 1 bedroomed flats, or used by businesses that don’t rely so much on pedestrian footfall or having large widow displays, such as hairdressers or tattoo parlours. 

Of course, the concept of businesses above businesses is not new. However, for a town to actively encourage the use of these within the average British town in the contemporary retail environment would be interesting.

Historical examples where the idea has been explored can be seen in Edinburgh’s old town, and on Northgate Street in Chester, though they are not widely adopted.

PubLove are a young venture busily increasing their portfolio of Hostel rooms above pubs, within the lucrative suburbs of London, where space is the ultimate commodity. This idea of course generates extra income for the pub, but also presents the options for providing breakfasts etc for the guests.

There is also opportunity for flexible working studios (this would work particularly well above cafes, where employees can ‘break out’ into the space below), or pop-ups that could be rented on short-term contracts.

Could Town Councils help to enable the use of these spaces by making them more noticeable? Could they provide walkways to the units above? Could they allow contemporary insertions or extensions that really would make the rooms attractive and suitable for modern usage?  If architectural interest was boosted, would their appeal be also?