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Death of high street “a myth” claims Turley report

The death of the high street is a myth and retail has a key role to play in the regeneration of failing town and city centres.

Making Sense of Mixed-Use Town Centres, a report produced by Turley, outlines a new framework for regenerating urban centres across the UK.

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Making Sense of Mixed-Use Town Centres

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According to the report, fears over the future of high street retail have been exaggerated and it has an important role to play in the future.

The report highlights that in 2017 £178 billion of in-store non-food transactions were completed – an average of £488 million a day.

This is significantly more than the value of online sales for non-food retail, which totalled £45 billion at an average of £123 million a day.

Figures for in-store spending are projected to increase to £227 billion by 2026 – showing that retail still has a valuable role to play in the high street of the future.

The report goes on to highlight the eight million sq m of vacant space in town and city centres across the country.

It says that through a mixed-use development strategy, a third of this space could be used to deliver more than 45,000 homes, helping to address the housing crisis.

This is a conservative estimate based on the assumption that new residential developments do not exceed the height of existing buildings. Many more homes could be delivered if taller buildings are considered, the report says.

Speaking about the report’s findings, Richard Laming, senior director, head of economics said:

“Securing the future of our town centres is a critical national issue – and one that is rightly getting a lot of attention. These centres are vital to residents, communities and businesses alike and are engines of economic growth. It is vital that these areas are allowed to evolve and that the planning system is match fit to support this.

“Our report is an attempt to put forward a positive vision for the future amidst the negativity that currently dominates the conversation. This starts with debunking the myth that the high street is dead – far from it – and goes on to suggest a five-point approach to planning for a brighter, mixed-use future for town centres.”

One of the report’s co-authors and director in the planning team, Paul Keywood added:

“Our urban centres offer a delicate balance of uses and services that rely on each other to drive footfall and survive economically. We believe that for these centres to continue to succeed and serve the needs of their communities they need to embrace a mixed-use future where the balance of uses shifts from what we have traditionally seen.

“A whole-place but bespoke approach to each centre, that considers what is needed to make these places attractive and useful for communities and businesses, is essential.

“Adopting this approach can deliver much needed housing, help turn around the fortunes of places that are currently struggling and ensure successful urban centres continue to perform. Contrary to popular belief, high street retail has a crucial part to play in shaping this future.”

A framework to guide change

The report also calls for resistance to blanket top-down national measures. It says careful understanding of places is needed so that individually tailored solutions can be provided to secure successful regeneration.

To combat what it calls “unclear guidance” in the National Planning Policy Framework the report outlines a series of recommendations for realising successful mixed-use centres.

Ensuring data is gathered on retail and leisure catchments, as well as considering housing need assessments, social infrastructure assessments and business use assessments is highlighted as an important first step.

How transport and infrastructure links affect a centre’s ability to perform also needs to be assessed, the report says.

Understanding demand from institutions such as universities, higher-education and hospitals is also outlined as key to planning a sustainable mix of developments.

Viability studies, including vacancy analysis; reviews of land ownership and public sector assets; and the potential for land assembly are also recommended as key steps to understanding property interests in each centre.

The report says consideration should also be given to the heritage of an area and the quality of public realm available. A whole-place approach focussed on creating centres that attract people to them is outlined as a key facet of successful regeneration.

Above all, local people should be at the heart of the process of finding a future for town and city centres, with opportunities built in for early engagement with stakeholders, the report says.

Principles for mixed-use regeneration

Finally, the report says that principles for successful mixed-use town centres should be quickly established to respond to rapid changes in the market.

These principles should include a redefinition of the retail core and the identification of areas where mixed-use development can be realised without compromising existing commercial uses.

Design is highlighted as having a pivotal role in successfully integrating mixed-use development; enhancing connectivity and accessibility; and encouraging sustainable travel opportunities.

Principles for the provision of more accessible community and social infrastructure needed to support the numbers of homes in town centres and ensure they are “liveable” are also suggested.

The recommendations seek to ensure the UK’s town and city centres can succeed in the future and continue to serve communities and also attract key investment from institutional funds and other long-term investors.

11 February 2019

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