Why we need to start talking about town centre regeneration


By Tim Reade, CIPFA Head of Property Advisory Services

Asset managers in local government across our towns, counties and districts in the United Kingdom are grappling with rapidly changing local circumstances amongst an uncertain and shifting national economic landscape. Funding from central government has declined, and local authorities are having to find clever ways to generate new revenue streams from their assets. 

During this time there is a need for local authorities to take a leadership role in reshaping and supporting local economies, particularly as business rates become an important part of local government funding. For our towns which have struggled and been left behind, it is important for each to find a way to forge their own futures through the current state of national uncertainty.

While our communities and the circumstances they face will always require local understanding and vision, there remains a burning need to learn from each other if we are to be successful in reviving, regenerating and repurposing our town centres and high streets. This is exactly why ‘Regeneration’ is the theme of the CIPFA Property Conference 2019.

The issues are well known. When it comes to town centres it is no secret that online shopping has led to a significant decline in foot traffic, and many businesses have struggled to adapt. Recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics shows one in every five pounds spent in UK shops is now online, a contrast to 2000 when just 1% of retail sales were online. 

It is important that local authorities work with businesses to find new opportunities, as they will need to take the lead in supporting this structural change. The High Street Report seeks to lay down both the challenges and suggest an approach to town centres which recognises that a sole reliance on retail will not sustain these spaces in the future. We need diversity.

Sir John Timpson who led the expert panel behind the report instead the need to create vibrant town centres that provide a much needed place for face to face contact in the digital age. This acknowledges the inevitability of change and disruption for businesses in the digital age, but also that it is not eradication, but transformation. 

Strong local leadership, or as the report terms, ‘upside down government’, is needed to ensure that this transformation is one which benefits the wider community. As Sir John's panel makes clear, it will be the formation of a single voice for town centres from local authorities, business and community leaders which supports a strong vision, as well as the development of networks, new skills, and championship which will create regeneration. New River Retail Director Emma McKenzie, a member of the High Street Panel, will be presenting on some of these ideas at the CIPFA Property‘s Regeneration 2019 conference.

Parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has sought to help pave the way with the High Street 2030: Achieving Change report. With a £675m Future High Streets Fund set up to help local areas to respond and adapt to these changes, I am looking forward to seeing the visions expressed during submissions of interest to this fund. However it should be clear to all involved that a reliance on government coffers will not be enough. 

It is not only our town centres which must transform, but the teams which deliver them. New skills must be developed along with greater leadership, and a drive for innovation. At CIPFA property services we will be supporting this movement towards regeneration by providing our unique mix of public finance and public sector property expertise, with our strong networks, events, training, consultancy, and software solutions.

At our conference we will kick off a conversation on regeneration in earnest with inspirational speakers and first hand case studies on the practicalities of regeneration to provide both inspiration and insight. By bringing together the property and finance profession we help shape the future of our towns, cities, rural communities and coastal centres.

CIPFA’s Public Finance Live 2019 is the premiere event for public finance professionals in the UK, bringing focus to the major themes affecting the sector today. With CIPFA Property‘s Regeneration 2019 conference to be held concurrently, attendees to Public Finance Live will be able to go to both, or alternatively, you can attend Regeneration as a stand-alone conference. 

Sign up now for this essential event.

Article first appeared in The MJ.

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