The Beyond Retail Report

30 Nov 2013

The latest report on the future of our town centres claims:

Rejuvenating town centres requires radical action on a scale not seen since the rebuilding of post world war II Britain.

Actioned by the belief that the digital revolution has transformed our everyday lives and the retail sector irrevocably, The Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce was set up, following Mary Portas’s review of the High Street.

It comprised of senior retailers, property investors, landlords and bankers have been investigating the impact of the changes that have affected retail and property in England's towns and city centres. These are the solutions from the people own and finance so much of our town centre.

“The retail sector is not going to ‘return to normal’ this time.”

Some of their key recommendations involve calling for the government to designate town and city centres as key national infrastructure. Many towns and city centres in the wake of the shift to online shopping have been left with too many shops.

Over the past 40 years retail floor space in England increased by around 43 million square metres - equalling nearly 300 Bluewater Shopping centres across England.

The chairman of the taskforce, Mark Williams, argues: "There's still a need for vibrant retail, just less of it."

"Although solutions will vary from place to place, the majority will benefit from a smaller retail core, with empty space being used for housing and leisure."

But easier said than done. For local authorities repurposing empty space has been an upward struggle against the array of landlords each with competing interests.

In order for change to be ensured, Edward Cooke, the director of policy for the British Council of Shopping Centres, states: "All stakeholders have a role to play: Individuals, local councils, local and national businesses and central government.

"We believe these recommendations will deliver the direction and the funding necessary to make this happen."

Greater cross-border co-operation between local authorities to better understand the impact of broader evolving shopper patterns at a local level.

Greater engagement with the private sector in terms of developers, investors, landlords and housebuilders to create, support and complete the long-term vision, not least in providing appropriate upskilling and best practice support.

Long-term masterplanning to strengthen the retail core, re-configure town centre space and re-use obsolete areas by defining new uses.

Proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) to bring about the scale required for major reconfiguration and regeneration within towns alongside an urgent review of the complexity and costs associated with CPO.

Town and city centres to be designated as ‘infrastructure’, and being incorporated in Government’s National Infrastructure Plan.

A workable, private sector led Tax Increment Finance (TIF) model which works alongside traditional funding models for town centre redevelopment.

Local authorities to take more risk in investing capital reserves now, which can be replenished as the economy recovers.

Piloting the concept of a joint venture vehicle and associated high street property fund that will pool land assets and address fragmented ownership.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to be adopted without ambiguity, further strengthening the ‘town centre’ first approach to planning policy.

Town centres to develop an integrated digital strategy, incorporating mobile, social media and website.

A business rate cap at no more than 2% until 2017. Use this period to undertake a full review of the business rates system as a sustainable means of raising money from local businesses to contribute towards paying for local government.

The quality, quantity and cost of town centre car parking to be reviewed in relation to free out-of-town provision using national benchmarks and the introduction of innovative and flexible parking policies is encouraged to attract shoppers and other town users during off-peak periods.

In the conclusion, the importance of merging the offline experience with the online is advocated:

“Enabling town centres to compete online through the creation of a virtual representation of their high street provides a way to promote the town as a whole.

It also allows individual retailers, especially independents, to display their products, to attract custom and retail online and to make customer offers by taking advantage of the greater combined brand weight of the town centre as a whole.”

The ascendancy of online retailing has generated different property requirements. Town centres need to behave differently in order to meet the demands of our multi channel consumers.

Measures such as establishing free in-town Wi-Fi and providing help for independent retailers with their marketing, online and social media advice will be positive moves to help with this.

What remains to be seen now is how many of these suggestions manage to be executed.

To read the full report: