With retail landlords resorting to go rent free on some stores as CVAs from the likes of House of Fraser continue to bite, it’s clear that many local authorities need to start thinking more carefully about their role.
By Philippa Curran, associate director, Nexus Planning
While business rates and operating costs are partly to blame for high- street closures, a major cause is the change in consumer behaviour, with an increasing number of people choosing to shop online.
But local authorities can do much to reinvigorate town centres. Indeed, it has been reported that in recent years councils have spent £4bn on commercial property as a way of protecting and improving local areas and generating future revenue.
While this proactive approach is welcome, councils should ensure that they put in place concrete plans to maximise the socio-economic benefits of such actions.
Local authorities should seek to prepare robust strategies, delivery frameworks and retail assessments. These steps should be taken collaboratively with private partners, public bodies and, of course, the local community and consumers.
By understanding the specifics of a local area, the preferences of a population and identifying gaps in the market, local authorities can put town centres at the heart of the community.
Without this understanding, there is a risk that local authorities will take on property that does not give a sufficient return over time, draining resources and potentially affecting important local services.
In carrying out such an exercise, local authorities may realise that the future high street will need to be a space for leisure and community activity as well as retail and entertainment.
Town centres should be redesigned into attractive, multi-purpose areas through the creation of robust strategies with strong public and private collaboration.