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Revitalising failing high streets ‘depends on local leadership’

The Future High Streets Forum says local leadership is the ‘recipe for success’ – but has warned that a lack of sustainable funding for change and improvement could imperil some projects.

The new report by the Forum, ‘Good leadership: Great High Streets’, is based on an analysis of four of the ‘Portas Pilot’ towns – Bedminster, Dartford, Rotherham and Sydenham.

Project lead Jason Cotta, managing director of Costa UK Retail, said: “We know what makes a high street great and what can turn a poor one around – good leadership – so the forum has developed a way to galvanise local leaders around a coherent game plan. To create great high streets through good leadership is just one way to address the challenges faced by the high street today. These tips will help every high street no matter where they are in the country.”

The report says the ‘common ingredients’ and successful leadership behaviours were: local authority engagement; sustainable and smart investment; communicating a vision; and entrepreneurial spirit.

It says town centres of any size can benefit and improve by taking these on board, and then following these five steps: 1) Develop a shared local vision to drive change. 2) Create a town strategy and action plan with a clear timetable for delivery. 3) Deliver the town strategy and action plan through expert teams. 4) Gather data to review the town strategy and action plan. 5) Establish insights and learning from the data.

High streets minister Brandon Lewis, who co-chairs the Forum, said: “High streets are the heartbeat of every community. The Future High Streets Forum is right to say that good local leadership is the essential ingredient for creating great high streets. Their leadership proposals will help every town centre across the country achieve the success that places like Dartford have, which in turn will future proof our high streets for decades to come.

The Portas Pilots scheme more generally has been controversial and attracted a backlash, with concerns over government support, funding and Portas’s own involvement and the associated TV programmes.

But Portas herself wrote to MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee last autumn following questioning, saying: “The Committee asked me for my views on the effectiveness and successes of the 27 Portas Pilots. I would like to reiterate that whilst some sections of the media have picked up only on perceived failings, there has been some excellent progress around the country, both Portas Pilots and other towns who have picked up my Review and without funding run with it, like Harrow and Helston. However it is clear to me that the Pilots could never truly succeed without full Government action on my recommendations. No amount of money or energy can combat the fatal flaws in the system which I recommended Government address in late 2011; business rates, parking controls, building usage, empty properties, and out-of-town planning.”

A separate project run by the Technology Strategy Board exploring the feasibility of new, technology-driven ways of reinvigorating UK high streets, addressing the specific issues in relation to retailing, services, logistics, travel and traffic, has just announced funding for 21 projects. 

The competition winners will share £2m, and the Technology Strategy Board will then invest up to £6m in a further, second phase of the competition, which successful projects from the first phase can apply for. 

Projects funded include:

The Bristol Pound

A project which will trial the concept of the Town Pound, a national network of local e-currencies. The project’s ultimate intention is to create a network of locally branded currencies on each High street and promises a range of additional benefits to retailers and shoppers, including one-stop online shops for each high street; a click and collect service, helping to increase high street footfall and collective loyalty schemes.

‘Beyond Clicks and Bricks’

A partnership of Kent County Council, Microsoft and other partners, will trial  augmented reality technology – allowing shoppers to point their smart phones at shop fronts and view tailored offers and next generation retail ‘Spot Market’ technologies, allowing shoppers to take advantage of targeted offers.


A project which provides free high street wi-fi, providing users with details of high street stores and offers, specific to the shopper’s position on the high street,, allowing retailers to push targeted offers to providing an impetus to High street retailers to get online. The project will also boost the local economy by providing a support service for local retailers, drawing upon local computing and engineering students, helping them to develop their online presence and analyse local shopping trends.

The Kirkgate Market - The First Omni Channel Market– Leeds

A project which aims to attract additional shoppers to Leeds Kirkgate market by developing an online presence for the market, incorporating a ‘Click and Collect’ service. The aim is to ensure that the market can match the convenience of larger high street and out of town retailers, through a 3D digital platform, which maps the indoor market and shoppers can navigate from home. 

Skills minister David Willetts MP said: “High streets have been at the heart of local communities for centuries, but many have declined in popularity in recent times with the introduction of online shopping. These innovative winning projects will help inform the work of the newly formed industry-led Digital High Streets Advisory Board which is developing a strategy on how best to use technology to revitalise high streets by making them more attractive, sustainable and locally relevant. I look forward to hearing the outcome of these trials and the work of the Board later in the year.”

CEO of the Technology Strategy Board, Iain Gray, said: "This is a particularly exciting initiative, which provides companies with an opportunity to test the feasibility and commercial potential of their technology-focussed ideas for attracting shoppers and retailers to UK high streets. Our ultimate aim is for our financial support to help companies to develop solutions that increase footfall in high street shopping locations and are applicable in numerous global markets."

Further details of the funding competition can be found here.

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