A new report has said a lack of ‘inspirational and forward-looking’ local leadership, planning issues and a shortage of specialist expertise in space design are contributing to failing town centres.
The report was commisioned by the Government and authored by Sir John Timpson, chairman of shoe repair chain Timpson, and it sets out a range of recommendations aimed at reviving town centres and high streets.
Timpson has called for an ‘Upside Down Government’ approach which he believes 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, which Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the autumn Budget.
A panel of retail professionals held sessions in Holmfirth, Shrewsbury, Bristol and Altrincham to learn the lessons from local stakeholders experiences as well as commisioning a survey asking residents what they wanted from their high streets and town centres of the future.
Since 2008, Aldershot has seen the loss of a number of major multiple retailers in the town centre, including Marks & Spencer, Next, Burtons, and Topshop.
The report found that the town, which has around 720,000 sq ft in retail area, has far too much retail space for a town of its size.
Timpson reports that the council has accepted that there is too much retail space in the town, but with engagement between the council, residents and the business community limited, he concluded that their plans are not going to maximise the potential for the centre.
The blight of vacant properties was mentioned by respondents in each of the case studies.
The report calls on local authorities to use their ‘initiative’ to encourage landlords and tenants to think innovatively about how to use empty properties.
If a deal can’t be struck at the market rent, the report says special terms should be offered to community businesses or other traders with a social purpose.
The report also criticises the current planning system and says the Task Force should encourage action that can make ‘can make planning decisions simpler, quicker and more aligned to local strategies.’
Timpson said: ‘We think there is more to do which is why we recommend that the Task Force plays a role in boosting local authority capacity to enable planning to support local areas and stakeholders to design effective and innovative high street and town centre strategies.’