Three-year study of 100 high streets highlights issues and solutions for town centres.

The media is full of stories of woe when it comes to the high street. Online retailing and changing consumer habits have led to the loss of many household names and the decimation of high streets across the country.

In an extensive 3-year study funded by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851’s Built Environment Fellowship, Dr Lucy Montague, David Rudlin and Vicky Payne examined 100 case studies. Findings have highlighted the major trends and issues and solutions to help towns and cities transition to a more resilient future high street.

Published by the RIBA in a new illustrated book, High Street: How our town centres can bounce back from the retail crisis, the researchers showed unprecedented challenges have been driven by a steep decline in the success of ‘big retail’ – large chain stores – with 40% of retail space surplus to requirement. However, there are glimmers of light, and a way forward for high streets beyond big retail. A number of trends are emerging that will affect future retail growth and seven key recommendations are made to help town centres and high streets support recovery national planning policy to halt out-of-town development, tackling vacancy through measures to incentivise independents and diversifying the high streets include a range of social activities and public services.

The findings are now being used to advocate for national government policies such a business rate reform and a re-think on permitted development rights that is eroding retail centres by allowing the unplanned conversion of shops to housing. They will also inform the strategies of local councils who are frequently faced with dilemmas on how to best spend funds in their town centres, and guide consultants developing town centre proposals.

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Project Details


David Rudlin, Lucy Montague & Vicky Payne

Project Start Date


Project End Date





Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851



Advisory Board

Steven Bee (Urban Counsel), James Kingston (CBRE), Annabel Franks (Academy of Urbanism), Caroline Simpson (Stockport Council), Alistair Chapman (CBRE), Andrew Osborn (Barnsley Council), Joe Ravetz, (Manchester Urban Institute) Debabardhan Upadhyaya (Homes England), David Hodcroft (GMCA), Nicholas Falk (URBED Trust)

Research Outputs


RUDLIN D., PAYNE, V., MONTAGUE, L., 2023. 'HIGH STREET How Our Town Centres Can Bounce Back from the Retail Crisis', RIBA Publishing.

Project Staff

Dr Lucy Montague
Dr Lucy Montague Senior Lecturer View profile