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‘Stagnant’ high streets need a new approach, says report

Councils should take a “more structured approach” to their high streets by setting up town centre investment zones, designed to bring property owners and developers together to rejuvenate these areas, a report has said.

The report, by expert group Fragmented Ownership Group – whose members are from Bond Dickinson, the British Property Federation (BPF), the DCLG, the Greater London Authority and others – identified that fragmented ownership and poor asset management block high streets from adapting to change.

The group then used three town centres in a pilot study to prove that taking a structured approach to what high streets can offer can attract further investment and stimulate fundamental change.

It suggests that town centre investment management, involving pooling a “critical mass” of property assets, would allow these assets to be managed and curated at large scale by investors in order to revitalise lagging high streets – especially around retail, a “traditionally attractive” asset due to its long-term prospects.

Liz Peace, the former chair of the BPF who chairs the Fragmented Ownership Group, said: “Many town centres are currently focussed on an outmoded retail that needs substantial structural 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.”

This model of working would allow the high street’s stock to adapt to the current challenges it faces, such as changing consumer behaviour and demand, and to shifting retail landscapes.

Accordingly, councils would be able to radically transform and future-proof their town centres to ensure high streets have a better consumer offering, including better housing and more leisure space.

The investment zones would eventually benefit from a “range of concessions” similar to the government’s Enterprise and Housing Zones, as well as from the support given to business neighbourhood planning.

Councils involved in the pilot projects backed the scheme, with Cllr Pam Posnett, deputy leader of Melton Borough Council in Leicestershire, claiming it helped the authority in its ambition to “promote a vibrant town centre and deliver a plan for growth”.

“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,” she added.

Jonathan Bower, real estate partner at Bond Dickinson, said local authorities have a key role to play as both “significant landowners” in town centres and as holders of statutory powers that “could be effective in facilitating this change in ownership structure”.

“Our town centres have been on the sick bed for quite some time and fragmented ownership is a major barrier to nursing them back to health,” Bower said.

“By pooling assets so they can be more proactively managed, we can rejuvenate town centres and make them destinations of choice once again.”


Amongst the report’s recommendations were calls for central government to provide extra financial support to examine how funding prototypes for pilots could work. The DCLG should also actively promote the scheme as one of the key solutions to addressing underperforming or failing town centres, the report said.

And the DCLG – who partly funded the report, alongside London mayor Boris Johnson, who is paying for a pilot study in the capital – should encourage investment in town centres by developing a package of special incentives that could be applied to these investment zones.

With the support of the private sector, the DCLG could encourage setting up a town centre investment fund, the Group said.


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