Retail industry experts have called for a community-focused approach to tackling the challenges facing high streets and town centres in a new report published today which also says that our high streets have twice as many shops as they need.
The government-appointed panel made up representatives from the retail, property and design sectors has published practical recommendations to reinvigorate town centres by creating a community hub which, alongside retail, includes leisure and social services and more residential property.
The report puts community involvement and local leadership at the centre of a plan to create the town centres of the future.
Panel chair Sir John Timpson called for an ‘Upside Down Government’ approach which would empower local leaders to implement their plans to reinvent their town centres. They would be supported with expert advice from a Town Centres Task Force and funding from the government’s Future High Streets Fund.
Another recommendation includes calling on local communities to celebrate their town centres with a ‘National High Street Perfect Day’ to tackle litter and graffiti so people can take pride in their local shopping centres.
The report also says that local councils must be given more money to turn town centres into communities and meeting places.
Sir John cited the example of Altrincham where he began his career in retailing. The town centre had suffered decline, but was turned around by reviving the old market and making it a focus for the community, he said.
Sir John Timpson said:
When the panel was formed, we knew high streets would never be the same again, but we were delighted to discover places where imaginative developments have increased footfall and reduced the number of empty shops.
By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.
I have learnt, from my own business, that the best way to get things done is to give people on the front line the freedom to get on with the job in the way they know best. We are applying the same Upside Down Government principle to the development of our town centres, with our Town Centre Task Force there to mentor, encourage and clear any obstacles out of the way while giving the clear message to inspirational local leaders that they are free to turn their plans into reality.