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Minister appoints panel to advise on the state of the high street

Words: Laura Edgar
Panel appointed to improve high streets / Shutterstock_175046003

Jake Berry, high streets minister, has announced that a ‘panel of experts’ has been appointed to identify issues affecting the health of the British high streets and help them to ‘thrive’.

The panel is expected to focus on what consumers and local communities want from their high streets, the challenges they face and how town centres can remain vibrant.

Chaired by Sir John Timpson, chair of the Timpson shoe repair chain, the panel includes representatives from local government and the retail and property sectors.

Timpson said: “Throughout my career, high streets and city centres have continually changed to fulfil the needs of society, but the recent shift towards more out of town and online shopping threatens the future of many high streets.

“The panel cannot offer an instant, quick-fix solution, but we hope to identify practical and commonsense decisions that will help the government to provide the support that local communities and businesses need to provide the leisure and shopping facilities people will want 25 years from now.”

Berry added: “High streets and small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we want to see them thrive now and in the future.

“People care about their local high streets because they are the centres of their community. But our high streets are changing, and the government is committed to helping communities adapt.

High streets of the future will still be commercial centres but consumers now look for a wider range of experiences, from leisure to health services. Our future high streets may well feature more homes, childcare centres and gyms to bring people back and ensure that they keep returning.”

Malcolm Sharp, chair of the National Retail Planning Forum, told The Planner: “As with the housing crisis there is no one silver bullet to help our ailing high streets and the commission’s task is certainly challenging. Tinkering with the planning system is not the answer and the draft National Planning Policy Framework does not go far enough in energising the town centre first policy which needs strengthening.

“A wholly market solution is unlikely to work and a key part of the solution will be for local authorities to become more proactive in active placemaking. To do this successfully in the face of a myriad calls on tight budgets they will need to be imaginative. The question is do they still possess the skills to play such a role?”

Later this summer, in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the panel will put out a call for evidence seeking what members of the public and young people in particular want from the high streets of the future.

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