High streets

High streets/local centres are a crucial part of any city or community. As well as shops, they encompass a range of services, employment, leisure opportunities and transport facilities, and as such perform a vital social function.

Some key facts

  • Bristol has 47 clearly identifiable high streets/local centres, including the city centre (comprising Bristol Shopping Quarter – Cabot Circus, Broadmead and The Galleries), 10 town, 9 district and 27 local centres.
  • There are approximately 5,600 retail properties in the city, and the vacancy rate is 6.7% (Summer 2017).

Business support and initiatives

A range of information relevant to high street/local centre businesses and independent traders in Bristol can be found below. To keep fully up-to-date with developments, follow us on Twitter.

Bristol Independents
A number of local organisations have come together to support the city’s independent businesses through the Bristol Independents campaign.

Bristol Pound
Over 750 businesses have signed up to the city’s own currency, the Bristol Pound. The Bristol Pound works closely with independent businesses in promoting and supporting the local economy.  

Business Start-up & Development Toolkit
The council has worked with local businesses, business advisors and traders' groups to produce a Business Start-up and Development Toolkit (pdf, 836k) (opens new window) .

Market research
As with any business, whether you’re starting up or expanding, it's important to know your market, both existing and potential customers.

We publish a range of research information that may be of use including:

Consumer classification tools such as those found at Acorn and Mosaic may also be of interest.

If your business is food-based you may be interested in Who Feeds Bristol? (pdf, 11.8MB) (opens new window)

Vacant premises
Vacant premises are often seen as a threat to the high street, but they also offer new business investment opportunities.

See our commercial property page for information on vacant council-owned property. See also the Invest Bristol & Bath website, and the ShopProperty and Estates Gazette websites which effectively provide access to nationwide databases.

Properties which are used for advertising are usually deemed to be occupied for business rate purposes.

However, for a temporary period in order to support economic, community and environmental improvement, the council will allow window space in empty retail units (within 1.5 metres from the window) to be used for not-for-profit advertising with the properties still being classed as unoccupied. See Window Guidelines (pdf, 48 KB) (pdf, 48 KB) (opens new window) (pdf, 48k) (opens new window) .

Visual merchandising and window displays
Any business can benefit from quirky, slick and professional advertising. Below is a link to a toolkit on visual merchandising; whether you’re a new business or well established it provides handy tips and tricks to improve your displays: Visual Merchandising and Window Displays toolkit (pdf, 4.8 MB) (pdf, 4.8MB) (opens new window) .

Markets are effectively what the city’s high streets evolved from, and they continue to play a major role in terms of its diverse commercial landscape, and in providing start-up and incubation spaces. See Markets in Bristol.

Business rates discounts and exemptions
There are discounts and exemptions that high street businesses can apply for.

Find out how the Valuation Office Agency values properties at GOV.UK.

Connecting Bristol
Online sales are forecast to rise significantly, so while current and emerging technologies can be seen as a threat to high streets/local centres, they can also be seen as an opportunity, especially with Bristol acknowledged to be a leading smart city.

To keep up to date with the latest developments visit Connecting Bristol.

Area-based organisations and projects

There are a number of representative organisations in Bristol related to high streets and local centres.

We seek to provide support to these organisations and projects, fully recognising the role they play in the economic health of the city.

City centre
Destination Bristol is a joint venture between Bristol City Council and Business West.

The organisation works with its partners and other stakeholders to promote the visitor economy and support the city centre. Destination Bristol manages two Business Improvement Districts; the City Centre and Broadmead.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)
BIDs are partnerships between local authorities and local businesses which are intended to provide additional services or improvements to a specified area.

A BID, lasting for a maximum of five years, must be agreed by ballot and is funded by a levy additional to business rates. 

The following BIDs currently operate in Bristol:

Other local/projects organisations
Organisations operate in Church Road, Coldharbour Road, Christmas Steps, Fishponds, Henleaze, Jacob’s Wells Road, Old Market, Stapleton Road and Westbury-on-Trym. 

Management organisations look after the shopping centres of Broadwalk (Knowle) and Clifton Down (Whiteladies Road).

Night Time Economy
Night Time Industry and Tourism Economy (NITE) Watch is an industry group for all that operate between the hours of 5pm to 5am in Bristol’s night time economy. 

It links together the businesses that work in the city’s night industries and business improvement districts with the Police and Council’s teams that service or regulate this economy. 

Find out more at the NITE Watch website.

Purple Flag
Purple Flag is a nationally recognised accreditation process similar to the Blue Flag award for beaches. 

It leads to Purple Flag status for town and city centres that meet or surpass the standards of excellence in managing the evening and night-time economy. 

Read more about Bristol’s Purple Flag status.

Training, events and other sources of information

BRAVE Enterprise Agency provides a variety of training courses.

Business West represents and works with over 18,000 businesses across the region, providing a range of support and events.

The City of Bristol College provides training courses for individuals (including via apprenticeships) and employers, covering customer services, health and safety, catering and hospitality.

The Federation of Small Businesses runs a number of events in Bristol that may be of interest.

Show of Strength Theatre Company runs theatre performances in high streets/local centres involving local people to help attract additional footfall.

Other organisations with a strong interest in high streets/local centres include:

Guidelines on outdoor seating areas for commercial premises

Furniture in areas outside appropriate business premises such as cafes can make a positive contribution to the character of the city and its economic vibrancy.

You can read our outdoor seating guidelines (pdf, 173k) (opens new window) for  designing a proposal likely to be acceptable to the council.

Contact us
For further information please email business@bristol.gov.uk