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High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 report

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published the High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 report on 21 February. Cat White, Associate Director, provides her thoughts on the report.

The High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 report has come at a critical time. It’s clear to see that regeneration should be an urgent priority for many of our town centres.

However, the idea that the high street’s hey-day is over, is wrong. The death of the high street is a myth. We strongly believe retail has a key role to play in the regeneration of our urban centres and that this latest report is unnecessarily gloomy. Yes, consumer behaviour has shifted to a degree, and online sales are rising. At the same time, however, in-store spending is projected to increase to £227 billion by 2026. It is not falling, as you might expect given the negativity currently surrounding the high street.

The retail core we see in town centres will remain essential to their success. However, it needs to be supported by developments that offer a number of different uses to drive daytime and evening footfall. Town centres that have a strong retail offering, but can also offer housing, workspaces, hospitality and leisure facilities are those that will thrive. Reducing business rates, as outlined in the report, is one top-down way of easing the burden on retailers. However, for town centres to be successfully regenerated we need to think much more holistically than that. 

Using just one third of the vacant floorspace that currently exists in our town centres for residential development could deliver 45,000 extra homes at a time when they are desperately needed. The report recommends the further extension of permitted development rights should be suspended, as it could undermine the local vision for the town centre. This reflects the voice of many commentators. However, while policies do need to reflect local circumstances, waiting for housing sites to be identified through development plans will not enable the timely intervention needed. 

There is a need to ensure that housing and other uses can be delivered quickly, but with the right controls in place to ensure we create vital, desirable and liveable places. Collaborative working between public and private sector stakeholders is key to realising this. It can unlock the potential for regeneration that complements the retail presence on the high street and transforms struggling town centres into attractive destinations where more people want to live, work and play. 

If we embrace this approach, there is plenty of reason to be positive about the future of the high street.

Should you have any queries about this report, please contact Cat White.

22 February 2019

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