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Report suggests new strategy to boost high streets

Words: Laura Edgar

The lack of a strategy for bringing together, under single asset management, the “fragmented ownership” of properties in town centres is one of the causes of their “failure and underperformance”, concludes a new report backed by the British Property Federation.

The report, Town Centre Investment Zones (pdf), published Monday 18 January by steering group Fragmented Ownership Group, also argues that asset managements of the high street could unlock investment for local authorities and communities to “transform” their areas.

It suggests that fragmented ownership and poor asset management are overriding factors in the high street’s inability to adapt to change.

“[Town centres] need to be about more than retail and they need to be helped to adapt to this fundamental change in role” – report

Town Centre Investment Zones, based on the findings of a study funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and three pilot councils, considers how investment can be encouraged into town centres to ensure they are about more than just retail.

A new structure for investment, Town Centre Investment Management (TCIM), involves the pooling of a critical mass of property assets into an investment vehicle, allowing the assets to be managed and the high street to be “rejuvenated”.

The model aims to enable the existing stock to adapt to various challenges facing the high street, including the behaviour and demands of consumers. Local authorities can then “transform and future-proof” high streets to ensure they offer more, including housing and leisure space.

Tested on Dartford, Weston-super-Mare and Melton Mowbray, the results suggest that a structured approach to a high street’s offering can attract investment and bring about change.

The Fragmented Ownership Group comprises:

Chairman: Liz Peace, adviser on property, politics and the built environment

Association of Town & City Management

British Council of Shopping Centres

British Property Federation

Bond Dickinson

Citi Centric

Department for Communities and Local Government

Greater London Authority

Peter Brett Associates

As a result of the study and the pilots, the report recommends that the areas designated for the asset management treatment should be set up as Town Centre Investment Zones. These would provide “coherence for all those involved and a clear signal to potential investors that the local stakeholders are fully aligned and mean business”.

The zones, says the report, would also benefit from being given a variety of concessions similar to Enterprise and Housing Zones.

Further recommendations include:

  • Government should provide further financial support to examine how funding prototypes for the pilots might work;

  • TCIM should be endorsed and promoted by DCLG as one of the solutions to address failing or underperforming town centres, possibly through a written ministerial statement;

  • Further work should be undertaken, led by DCLG with the support of the private sector, to encourage the setting up of a Town Centre Investment Fund, involving a number of town centre investment opportunities; and

  • Government should promote the concept of Town Centre Investment Zones as the means of giving town centre investment real focus.

Liz Peace, chairman of the Fragmented Ownership Group, said that many towns are currently focused on an outmoded retail that “needs substantial change”.

“Resurrecting their fortunes will not be achieved simply by the superficial and largely cosmetic measures that have so far been applied. This new and more fundamental approach, using proper asset management techniques, offers us the best and maybe the only hope of making lasting and beneficial change.”

Pam Posnett, deputy leader Melton Borough Council, added: “This pilot has helped us move towards developing that longer-term view we need.

“It promotes a mix of uses including retail, housing, leisure and cultural experience with a vision for development that is unique to the desires and wishes of our town centre communities.”

Chris Shepley, chair of the National Retail Planning Forum, said to The Planner the report is “valuable” with some “imaginative and constructive ideas”.

However, “it is not a magic bullet,” he said, “there is no such thing”.

“Town centres are different from one another. We need retrenchment in some cases, redevelopment in others, environmental work in some, strategic planning in others to look at the overall pattern of provision. But it may be an important component of change. I hope these ideas are taken forward and that the various sorts of government help which are proposed are forthcoming, even in this period where government help for things is hard to come by.”

The report can be found here.

The report was carried out by planning practice Peter Brett Associates with law firm Bond Dickinson and property consultancy Citi Centric.

It was funded by the DCLG and the three pilot councils.

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