The report – released following extensive research by commercial property specialists Colliers International – says fundamental changes are necessary if stricken town centres are to survive.
It says smaller numbers of shops could thrive so long as the spare retail space around them makes way for new office, residential and leisure facilities to create more balanced and vibrant town centres.
Set up by the Government, The Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce concluded that shopping precincts in a large number of towns and cities needed rethinking on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War.
Nick Turk, head of retail at Colliers International said: “There's still a need for vibrant retail, just less of it.”
Colliers International spotlighted 27 towns across the country, including Evesham, Swindon and Bridgwater. The latter was one of five Somerset towns which applied for a share of the £1m fund to revive England's struggling high streets backed by TV retail guru Mary Portas in 2012.
The report blames a dramatic drop in traditional town centre footfall on the recession, oversupply of retail floor space and the massive shift in consumer shopping patterns towards online retailers.
Nick Turk went on: “High Streets have been rocked by the unprecedented scale and long-term implications of the change in retail patterns we have seen over the last five years.
“The nation’s town centres need to evolve now if they are to survive – but this should not necessarily be viewed in a negative way but as an opportunity for towns and cities to adapt to modern communities.”
The report calls on the Government to designate town and city centres as key national ‘infrastructure’ in order to open significant funding opportunities currently not accessible.
High Street locations in London and the South were said to be particularly affected by the current lack of investment in contrast with the Midlands and the North which have been hard hit by wider economic conditions.
The report also calls for urgent action to open up town centres for development.
Nick Turk said: “It is imperative that we diversify the range of services and attractions that town centres provide, in addition to the range of shops, giving people a reason to visit.
“Multiple ownership in town and city centres is a major barrier to change and is a major drag on new thinking. There are often a myriad of different landlords and competing interests to deal with.”
The report recommends aggressive use of compulsory purchase powers and simplifying the current system for local councils in order to bring about major urban reconfiguration and regeneration.
“Solutions vary from place to place but for the overwhelming majority a smaller retail core supplemented by improved leisure, residential and community use is likely.”
Local authorities tackling the surplus of space and scourge of empty properties should take more of a risk in investing capital reserves now, which can be replenished as the economy recovers.
“The message from the retail property industry to the government is clear: they are prepared to demolish and write off distressed buildings to regenerate town centres so long as the public sector and government can make it easier to rebuild.”
This will require greater flexibility in the planning system to enable quick and easy change of use from redundant retail premises to more economically productive uses.
Nick Turk concluded: “The recommendations are radical because the challenges are serious and solutions are overdue.
“The report offers a clear vision of rejuvenated town and city centres which are fit for the future - not only places where people can shop but where they live, eat, work and are entertained.”