June 2012: Have the planners subconsciously pushed multiple retailers from what was once known as the prime high street pitches with its planning policy guidance?

It was thought our quality of life depended on transport and ease of access to jobs, shops, leisure facilities and services. Do we need a safe, efficient and integrated transport system to support a prosperous economy? The way we travel and the continued growth in road traffic was reportedly damaging our towns, harming our countryside and contributing to global warming. The Government was adamant it needed to alter the way people shopped or, at least, it wanted to control the transportation habits of those shopping in town centres.

Prime high street locations were too limited in many ways so local authorities were given a directive to look at the ‘sequential approach’ which promotes town centre vitality and viability by focusing on town centre development. Yet the Government also wanted to improve and develop the shopping offer. Edge of town centre development was born as many town centres exhausted their retail space options. The migration continued to out of town, in the shape of factory outlets and retail parks. Was the sequential approach meant to shift retailers from the traditional high street? Whether it was intentional or not, it has and now beleaguered high streets appear to have lost their raison d’etre.

This migration has given retailers numerous location choices. From small expensive units in traditional prime, to larger cheaper units in edge of centre locations and to even larger and cheaper space in out of town now favoured by many of the UK’s most popular brands.

We now view the retailer’s property selection policy as the ‘Goldilocks approach’. This one is too small, this one is too expensive but out of town is just right. But as the retail development pipeline has effectively ground to a halt and retailers continue to seek ways to improve turnover, where will they venture next?

Now looking for large units, free parking, easy access and reasonable rents, more and more retailers are considering the garden centre sector. A sector that is producing more stable sales and profits than the high street and one which industry pundits are predicting growth of up to five percent a year between now and 2015. A figure that has not gone unnoticed by investors as evidenced by private equity firm Terra Firma paying £276 million for the 128 centre-Garden Centre Group earlier this year.

With retailers now rationalising their property portfolios and looking for larger yet fewer shops, it could well be the traditional high street retailers that help the garden centre sector reach its predicted growth over the next three years.