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Home / Tim Worstall /It’s the right method even if the specific experiment may or may not work

It’s the right method even if the specific experiment may or may not work

Summary:
Certain facts about the retail estate:Online sales soared more than a third last year, according to data experts IMRG - the highest growth in 13 years and in stark contrast to overall retail sales that fell into negative territory. Meanwhile, oversupply in the casual dining market means the biggest restaurant chains are shutting sites rather than opening new ones.This has forced property owners to find new ways of tempting customers back to shopping centres and high streets when the economy reopens.The pandemic associated lockdowns have accelerated that change from bricks and mortar retailing to online. We thus need - require - less of that built environment to be devoted to the delivery of retail services. OK, economies have gone through such changes before, no doubt will again. Somewhere

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Certain facts about the retail estate:

Online sales soared more than a third last year, according to data experts IMRG - the highest growth in 13 years and in stark contrast to overall retail sales that fell into negative territory.

Meanwhile, oversupply in the casual dining market means the biggest restaurant chains are shutting sites rather than opening new ones.

This has forced property owners to find new ways of tempting customers back to shopping centres and high streets when the economy reopens.

The pandemic associated lockdowns have accelerated that change from bricks and mortar retailing to online. We thus need - require - less of that built environment to be devoted to the delivery of retail services.

OK, economies have gone through such changes before, no doubt will again. Somewhere between 1890 and 1920 vast numbers of urban stables had to be repurposed and they didn’t all become mews cottages. Hay and oats supplies were replaced by those of petrol.

The question is not whether the change, but how to achieve it?

Last spring Harvey Jenkinson decided to take a gamble. The chief executive of Gravity, an indoor trampoline park operator, signed a deal to take on an 80,000 sq ft space in a shopping centre in southwest London, previously rented by the now-bust department store Debenhams.

“We signed the lease at the height of the pandemic, which many people might have thought was a bit crazy,” he says. “It’s not been easy for us. We’ve had to apply for government support to survive, but we had to push forward and see beyond this.”

The company is now preparing to open the four-floor venue in Wandsworth’s Southside shopping centre this summer, filling the space with a Japanese-style go-karting area, 16 full-length bowling lanes, pool tables, ping pong and crazy golf.

We haven’t the slightest as to whether that’s a good idea or not. Our point though is that nor does anyone else. No one in central government, no combination of local authorities, us all out here as consumers, even the people building and paying for the conversion. We can all have opinions, sure, but none of us actually knows.

Because no one does know what to do with the urban estate. We face uncertainty here, not probability. Within the universe of things it is possible to do what is it that people want done? Our only method of finding out is to do many different things and see what sticks.

That is, we have to use market methods - which is what just allowing people to get on with experimenting is - rather than planning. The reason we can’t plan being that we’ve no damn idea what will work.

Full on laissez faire - allowing the employment of the Fleet River as the drainage for an open air slaughterhouse again - isn’t required. But the freedom to just get on with changes of use is.

How else are we going to work out what to do with cities if we don’t experiment?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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