SOUTHAMPTON needs to encourage visitors to view the whole city centre as their destination rather than just Westquay, a planning expert has said.

Encouraging students and young professionals to remain in the city will also be key to helping its retailers compete with online and out of town shopping centres, it is claimed.

The analysis comes from Alice Drew, planner at the Southampton office of planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore.

“If the experience is right, consumers value the high street and are quite prepared to go there,” she said.

“Successfully adapting Southampton’s iconic Westquay retail centre to include the new leisure quarter draws the consumer to actually spend longer in the city due to the convenience of everything being in the same vicinity.”

But she said accessibility was “one of Southampton’s major flaws”.

“Barton Willmore has been based in the city for three years; we have been able to see change beginning to take form with improvements to the cultural and station quarters, but there is much more that could be done,” she said.

She added: “How many shoppers travel to Westquay, park, shop, maybe eat, and then travel out again? What if the city centre as a whole, rather than its flagship shopping centre, was the destination? What if it was more a case of drive once (or not at all), park, shop, and then use easy public transport links, pedestrian routes and bike hire to explore the waterfront, city centre, theatre, restaurants and more?”

Ms Drew said changing the focus from cars to cyclists, pedestrians and buses would make sustainable travel more realistic.

“It is already encouraging to hear that £5.7million from the Transforming Cities Fund has been secured to improve public transport links in Southampton. Linking the city’s features will also inevitably help boost the city’s hopes of becoming City of Culture 2025 – another potential boost for the city’s economy,” she added.

She said that between 2002 an 2015, the city centre experienced a “staggering population growth of 94 per cent”, most of which was made up of young professionals and students.

“To keep the city as a choice to work, invest and play, one of the challenges is to retain this student and young population. Given the city’s two universities, the success of a bustling, vibrant centre still requires high-skilled, high-paying jobs, reflecting the importance of sectors like finance and legal services,” she said.

“Identified by the Good Growth for Cities Index as the third best place to live and work in the UK in 2018, Southampton is already home to accountancy firms such as PWC and Delloite as well as law firms and a renowned marine biology sector. Yet, without the growth of these skilled industries there will be a limit as to how many of the young generation are retained here.”

She added: “There is a definite missing link for the connection of Southampton’s offerings in order for the modern market to experience the city as a one-stop destination.

“With the right approach and a commitment to change, we won’t see the death of city centre retail – this could be the opportunity for a renaissance.”