This report looks at how we can reimagine our town centres and how communities can take a more active role in the stewardship of their high street.
Town centres are at the heart of London’s communities, with more than a third of Londoners living within 200 metres of a high street. Yet many of our high streets have been on life support for years, as shops have closed and online sales have grown. Coronavirus has accelerated this trend. High streets dominated by retail may be thing of the past. So where do we go from here?
This report highlights increasing momentum behind the idea that communities must play a meaningful role in shaping their local centres. If shops close down, the people who use our high streets every day are best placed to decide what should happen to them. To make this work, we will need to address structural problems like high and inflexible rents, fragmented property ownership and proposed planning reforms.
Specific governance models which guarantee a seat at the table for communities, such as ‘Community Improvement Districts’, might work for some places – but there is no one size fits all, and getting the values right is often more important than getting the governance model right.
This report sets out practical guidance for people who want to start up or build on community involvement with their town centre. It also makes recommendations for national and local government on how to make this happen in more places.
To give communities more say over their high street’s future:
- Local authorities should create inclusive town centre strategies with community or business groups. If local authorities can’t do this, then Business Improvement Districts, other place partnerships and community groups could make a start instead and involve their local authority at a later stage.
The government should support successful high street renewal by:
- Reconsidering the extension of permitted development rights and allowing councils to request exemptions where there is a risk to the survival of a local high street.
- Reviewing the powers of local authorities to bring long-term vacant commercial properties on the high street back into use, where their owners are unknown or negligent. It could also go further and demand these properties are instead used for community benefit.
- Building on existing programmes to fund high street strategies, by giving grants directly to councils, and ensuring that the upcoming Community Ownership Fund is flexible and appropriately targeted.