Policy-focused Evidence-based Research on Retail Access, Competition and Planning
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Research conducted by Professor Wrigley of the University of Southampton
has had a major impact on retail sector practices and government retail
policy. Retail is a key sector of the economy. Gross value added (GVA) by
the sector has risen by over 50% in real terms over the past 15 years.
Wrigley's research established the key role of food retail in
disadvantaged communities as a tool for both urban regeneration and a
response to the `obesity epidemic'. Its impact has reset the parameters of
policy debate on retail competition and contributed to both the evidence
base and policy formulation on the future of the high street in the face
of case of economic crisis and changing retail practices. These impacts
have had national and global reach on UK and US government policies and
have been significant in the launch of a large-scale experiment to
eradicate `food deserts' (areas lacking healthy foods) in Philadelphia.
The impacts have also been instrumental in convincing the retail industry
of the value of academic research.
The retail industry is globally significant. In the UK alone retail sales
of £303bn in 2011 were equivalent to 20% of GDP and retail employs one in
nine of the workforce. Professor Wrigley has led world-leading
agenda-setting research on the retail industry which has been published in
relevant leading journals and attracted over 5000 citations. The research
has leveraged over £2.8m in substantial and prolonged support from UK
industry (J Sainsbury PLC and Tesco PLC), Research Councils (ESRC),
Government Departments (BIS, DCLG), and international agencies. Three
interrelated research projects provide the underpinning for the impacts
1) Pioneering cross-disciplinary (geography, public health, urban
planning) research (2000-4) on `food deserts', examining the problems of
food access in deprived urban communities. This ESRC/Sainsbury co-funded
research originated as a response to the Acheson Report on health
inequalities and has attracted over 800 citations. It incorporated the
first large-scale `natural experiment' of the dietary consequences and
urban regeneration impacts of ameliorating an `unsupportive local food
environment' in a highly underserved and deprived part of a major UK city
via the opening of a new full-range food store. The research produced
prize-winning academic papers which remain amongst the highest cited on
the topic and has increasingly underpinned international impacts,
particularly in North America (3.1, 3.4).
2) Large-scale methodologically rigorous evidence-based research on the
nature and effects of retail competition. This evidence, in the context of
regulatory inquiries, has reset the nature of policy debate on the impacts
of retail development and the social responsibilities of leading
retailers. Three interrelated projects focused on: (a) the entry and exit
of small and specialist stores in over one thousand UK town centres and
high streets (2007-08), (b) large-scale `before/after studies of the
effects of food store developments on market towns and district centres
(2008-10), and (c) the trip generative capacities, `anchor' potential, and
community responses associated with `new generation' in-centre corporate
convenience stores in small towns (2010-12) (3.2, 3.5).
3) Research supported jointly by ESRC and Tesco PLC (2010-13) on the
economic health of UK town centres and high streets after more than a
decade of progressively rising rates of on-line shopping, complex effects
associated with the `towns centres first' approach to retail
development, and differential responses to the macro economic shock wave
of post 2008 global economic crisis. After publication of well-received
pioneering studies of the differential performance of over 250 town
centres and high streets as global economic crisis exposed these drivers
of change, the research moved in 2012-13 to a forward-looking assessment
of alternative visions of the future configurations of UK high streets.
That assessment builds outwards from the government commissioned Portas
Review and Prof Wrigley's position as the sole academic on DCLG's Future
High Streets task force looking over a 25 year horizon (3.3, 3.6).
References to the research
3.1 Wrigley, N, Warm D.L. & Margetts, B.M. (2003)
`Deprivation, diet and food retail access: findings from the Leeds `food
deserts' study', Environment and Planning A,
35: 151-88. [Awarded Ashby Prize 2004]. Highly cited in relation to field
specific norms: 226 citations Google Scholar.
3.2 Wrigley, N., Branson, J., Murdock, A. & Clarke, G.P.
(2009) `Extending the Competition Commission's findings on entry and exit
of small stores in British high streets: implications for competition and
planning policy', Environment and Planning A, 41:
3.3 Wrigley, N. & Dolega, L. (2011) `Resilience, fragility,
and adaptation: new evidence of the performance of UK high streets during
global economic crisis and its policy implications', Environment
and Planning A, 43: 2337-363. [Nominated for AESOP 2012 Best
Published Paper Prize].
3.4 2000-2004: ESRC/J. Sainsbury co-funded research project `Food
Deserts in British Cities', award total £377,000 — split 66:33
ESRC/Sainsbury in pre-FEC funding environment and part of
ESRC/BBSRC/FSA/DoH Food & Health programme. PI — Prof. N. Wrigley,
Co-Is — Profs M. Lowe, B. M. Margetts and A. Jackson.
3.5 2005-2010: Series of interrelated research grants from Tesco
PLC. Awards totalling £847,000 — in all cases PI — Prof. N. Wrigley.
To provide evidence-based research on retail competition and retail
planning issues — specifically on `entry and exit of small and specialist
stores in UK town centres & high streets 2000-06', for `before/after
studies of the impact of new foodstore developments on market towns and
district centres', and to assess the trip generative capacity, anchor
potential, and community responses to `new generation' in-centre corporate
3.6 2011-13: ESRC/Tesco PLC co-funded research on the `UK High
Streets During Economic Crisis and their Future Configurations'.,
Initial award £297,000 (split 50/50) plus £100,000 `follow-on' award and
linked PhD Scholarships, PI — Prof. N Wrigley, Co-I Prof. M Lowe.
To investigate differential performance of over 250 town centres and high
streets as they adjusted to the shock wave of global economic crisis and
subsequent austerity. Additionally to provide a forward-looking assessment
of alternative visions of the future configurations of UK high streets
building on and outwards from the government commissioned Portas Review..
Details of the impact
Individually and collectively, the interrelated projects outlined in
Section 2 and the cumulative underlying research programme of which they
form part, have significantly impacted policy debate, held policy to
scrutiny and influenced policy development during the REF period as
1) The `food deserts' research initially impacted UK policymakers
through invited presentations to the British Retail Consortium (2002), the
All-Party Parliamentary Food & Health Group at the House of Commons
(2003), and the World Economic Forum (2004). The research is acknowledged
to have significantly influenced national and international policy
regarding retail-led urban regeneration and to have provided a key element
in the evidence base that led to the development of almost 50 `urban
regeneration partnership stores' in some of the most deprived urban
communities in the UK. The impact within the current REF period has
extended this reach to North America. In 2008 the escalating financial
cost of dealing with the consequences of obesity and food insecurity led
the US Congress to mandate the US Dept. of Agriculture to report on the
`causes and consequences of `food deserts' in the USA'. Significantly
Professor Wrigley was one of only two international experts invited to
contribute evidence via the US National Academies. Subsequently the
Southampton `food deserts' research (5.1) and its focus on the
access to healthy foods has become `a cornerstone of the Obama
administration's food policy' (Washington Post). Most recently, the
policy impact of the Southampton research has been manifested in the form
of an ambitious large-scale policy experiment set up to eradicate `food
deserts' in Philadelphia (5.2). In 2012, both the Washington
Post and Science acknowledged the pioneering role of the
Southampton research in underpinning this real-world impact.
2) Three specific impacts on policy formation and planning practice have
flowed from the research on retail competition. First, the 2006-08
Competition Commission `Groceries Market Investigation' drew on the
Southampton research in its extensive and pivotal technical/research
appendices, changing the environment for retail competition in the UK's
high streets (5.3). Second, the research on the impact of large
foodstores on market towns and district centres has been accepted, since
publication in 2010, as providing state-of-the-art evidence for use in the
practice of planning — in proposal submissions, decisions and appeals. The
Government's Planning Portal directs users to a clear summary of
the key Southampton findings (5.4) and examples of the use of the
Southampton findings, as a keystone of the retail location planning
process, continue to rise steadily (5.5). This substantial impact
on planning practice was highlighted in the leading trade journal `The
Grocer' as an exemplar of how evidence-based research has reset the
parameters of debate on retail competition. Third, catalysed by an invited
presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Town Centres, the
British Retail Consortium, the British Property Federation, the
Association of Town Centre Managers, and leading retailers, Professor
Wrigley's research on `new generation' town centre corporate convenience
stores, has impacted on corporate and governmental retail planning policy,
debunking conventional perceptions and ensuring evidence-based policy
making. In a highly unusual unsolicited letter, this work was described by
the CEO of Tesco as `a timely and important contribution to the debate
about the nation's high streets' impacting the firm's corporate strategy (5.6).
3) The co-funded research for ESRC and Tesco PLC (2010-13) is having an
ongoing impact on policy formation. It was made available to BIS as
background research for the Portas Review and is acknowledged and
summarized in the evidence base evaluation (Understanding high street
performance, 2011 Dec) commissioned by BIS and released to accompany
the Portas Review. Additionally, ESRC have used this research to exemplify
impact on retail policy in Select Committee evidence (5.7).
Professor Wrigley is the only academic invited to serve on the DCLG Future
High Street Forum — a high-profile taskforce of key stake-holders
concerned with taking forward policy on the revitalization of town
centres/high streets (5.8). His work has been highlighted by DCLG
for the evidence that it brings on the drivers of high street footfall. He
is playing a lead role in shaping DCLG perspectives on retail research.
Separately, and additionally, Prof. Wrigley was one of a small number of
academics invited by BIS to shape BIS's Retail Strategy. Research
by his Southampton team features extensively in evidence provided by ESRC
to the BIS Select Committee inquiry into the UK retail sector.
In summary, Professor Wrigley's research demonstrates significant impact
on UK and US retail policy at the highest level. It has challenged and
changed planning and policy practice and had large-scale real-world impact
on food access issues in major US cities, on retail policy and planning in
the UK, and on policy debates over the future of the UK high street. These
claims can be substantiated by independent and senior figures in the UK
planning and property sectors and by leading executives in the retail
industry (5.9 and 5.10).
Sources to corroborate the impact
References 1 and 2 substantiate the claims regarding the impact of the
food deserts research
5.1 USDA report to US Congress on the `Causes and consequences
of `food deserts' in the USA'
and associated US National Academies report on the Public Health
Effects of Food Deserts
5.2 Kliff, S. (2012) Will Philadelphia's experiment in eradicating
food deserts work? Washington Post, June 8, 2012 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/will-philadelphias-experiment-in-eradicating-food-deserts
J. (2012) Tackling America's Eating Habits, One Store at a Time, Science,
337(6101): 1473-1475. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6101/1473.full
References 3 to 6 address the claims for impact from large-scale
methodologically rigorous evidence-based research on retail competition
5.3 Competition Commission, `Groceries Market Inquiry'
April 2008, Appendices 5.1 and 5.2 Trends in the number and entry
& exit of convenience stores and specialist grocery stores.
5.4 Milne, R. (2010) Report highlights key role for edge of town
retailing, Planning Portal (online)
5.5 Evidence file (available upon request) containing over 20
examples of the use of the `Market Towns and District Centres'
research in the planning system within 18 months of its publication. Many
preface their use by stating that they are quoting the findings of the
`renowned retail research team at the University of Southampton'.
Additional examples of this case law impact are emerging continually.
5.6 Unsolicited letter from CEO Tesco, December 2012.
References 7 and 8 address claims for impact from research on the
economic health of British town centres
5.7 `Retail Therapy' from ESRC (2013) Britain in 2013.
References 9 and 10 lists senior figures in the UK retail planning and
property sectors who will substantiate the claims for impact made in
this case study
5.9 Group Corporate Affairs Director, Tesco plc.
5.10 Mr Williams, Director Planning, CGMS Consulting, London.