Walk down most high streets in the UK and you will see that the internet has revolutionised the way we shop.
One in seven shops lies empty, and this week we’ve seen forecasts that 5,000 more shops will close within the next five years.
And the growing burden of business rates is loading more pressure on our high streets at a time when we should be reinvigorating them.
At the same time, we are facing a shortage of quality office space in some city and town centres as the number of start-ups grows to nearly pre-recession levels, and firms want more energy-efficient spaces.
Thankfully, the Welsh Government’s new regeneration strategy, Vibrant and Viable Places, recognises the challenge that the “next 10 years will be about the diversification of our high streets and standing up and making tough decisions.”
What should those tough decisions include and what can the rest of the UK teach us?
For some, regeneration is seen as something for the public sector to worry about.
But given the pressures on our high streets, the dwindling supply of quality office space and the need to dramatically increase house building, it’s a high priority for the businesses I speak to.
With public budgets increasingly stretched, authorities can not afford to bankroll development projects as they might have in the past.
It is fair to say that many think our cities and major towns are ripe for new developments that can support modern, sustainable working practices.
The opportunity is there and the benefits are clear. Looking beyond the successful St David’s development in Cardiff, in Leeds, £4.3bn of major development during the past decade has boosted employment in professional services, and the city’s earnings growth has outstripped the UK average over the past decade.
How we go about capturing the success of that approach is key for Wales.
Successful regeneration relies on responding positively to specific local circumstances, recognising local strengths. There is no “one size fits all” model, but while each local economy must develop its own way, there are some common themes that are driving the need for regeneration across the nation.
Capitalising on these drivers in our towns and cities will unlock the private investment needed to enable local economies to thrive.
What we need is a new approach that is focused on local business strengths, built on strong partnerships between the public and private sectors and responsive to the local factors driving development in towns and cities across Wales.
Aligning regeneration efforts with Welsh enterprise Zznes, sector panels and the next round of EU funding will be key to maximising the impact of our activity.
The CBI’s latest report, Locally Grown, makes the case for physical regeneration through a series of case studies that illustrate the art of the possible.
In Camden, for example, local leaders have put empty shops to good use as pop-up art galleries and creative spaces. Iconic projects like i54 South Staffordshire and Media City UK in Salford have successfully reinforced local sector strengths in automotive and creative industries.
In Aberdeen, they are now planning to build twice as many houses as at the peak of the market in 2007, and the building programme in Milton Keynes has kept housing affordable even though its population has grown faster than any other city.
We need the Welsh Government and local authorities to follow these examples, so that people are able to move where the jobs are.
With further City Deals in the pipeline and the prospect of devolved budgets through Lord Heseltine’s idea of a “single pot”, the incentives for local leaders to set out ambitious economic strategies are growing in England.
It’s essential that the public and private sectors work together to ensure equivalent opportunities are present in Wales and are not squandered.
The CBI now want to explore how we can replicate the individual successes more widely across the UK.
We want to understand where the public and private sectors have forged successful partnerships to deliver regeneration and how this can be scaled up in Wales. If you have a view, or want to get involved, please get in touch.
Emma Watkins is director of CBI Wales.