- Town centres haven’t evolved alongside their communities so are no longer fit for purpose
- Town centre stakeholders must act in partnership
Local authorities are being encouraged to adopt the role of the guardian of high streets and town centres in a new report Hope for the High Street from KPMG.
Presented as a discussion document, KPMG’s report outlines the challenges facing the UK’s town centres and actions required by their stakeholders in order to deliver change. It also considers the factors behind the varying degrees of ability and willingness of local authorities to take the lead in re-thinking planning policy and town centre management.
KPMG’s report states the British High Street merits a fundamental re-think, in order to remain relevant to modern lifestyles.
One of its authors, Ms Kru Desai, KPMG’s head of local government, says:
“People live differently today, compared with even 20 years ago. We have smaller homes, spend a greater proportion of our budgets on food and drink outside of the home and spend significant time online, even when on the move. Many town centres face difficulties because they haven’t evolved alongside their communities.
“The good news is that there remains a strong demand for collective urban spaces where people can spend time meeting, communicating, eating, drinking and working. But, in their current formats – the way they look, the mix of uses, the functions they offer and the ways in which they are managed – many of our town centres are no longer fit for purpose.”
According to the report the High Street represents an intersection of the interests of four key types of stakeholder - property owners, property occupiers, the local authority (sometimes more than one) and the wider local community.
It suggests that different interests have contributed to High Streets failing to keep pace with societal needs and argues that each must play a part in planning and delivering change, creating a new shared vision for the way a town centre looks and works.
This gives some local government bodies a real cultural and operational challenge, notes Kru Desai:
“Despite being publicly accountable for developing and safeguarding a town’s vision, a local authority has only limited powers of delivery and must usually work in partnership with the other stakeholders of the High Street to achieve its aims.
“Some local authorities are doing so far more actively than others, which can be due to political factors, access to funding and, in some cases, because of a historic cultural reluctance to be proactive. After all, immediate post-war experiences of over-ambitious town centre remodelling still scar many cities, though some, such as Birmingham and Manchester, have enjoyed a renaissance.”
What does it take to deliver change?
KPMG believes that improving the country’s town centres will require local government bodies to participate in a combination of five key actions:
- Understanding the purpose and function of a modern town centre
- Shrinking the retail part of the high street
- Providing flexible planning policies and a mix of uses
- Introducing creative commercial arrangements to accelerate and sustain change
- Working in partnership
Of these actions, the one most specifically attributed to local authorities is land-use planning. Given the dramatic changes in shopping trends, unless sections of some town centres are zoned differently, away from retail use, large areas of previously vibrant streets are destined to remain vacant for many years to come. This means lower local tax revenues, less well-maintained buildings and an increasingly poor social utility for the community.
Stephen Barter, report author and chairman of KPMG’s real estate advisory practice, urges a more flexible approach to town centre planning:
“As part of supporting non retail exclusive town centres more residential accommodation, even in high street locations, should be encouraged. Rather than relying on building planning applications to shape a policy, local authorities could indicate permissible zonings by neighbourhood blocks or clusters of buildings to determinedly transform an area of the town.
“It may be necessary to create special economic zones, or even forms of local development corporation, to provide the leadership, special powers and the harnessing of capital and expertise needed to provide visionary change in an accelerated way. Britain has a good track record of using such arrangements to deliver regeneration over the past 30 years, including London’s Docklands, parts of the North East and Manchester.”
What does good look like?
Town centres which have successfully evolved in step with their communities do exist and typically feature:
food and beverage outlets and a diversity of entertainment venues
on-street wi-fi access
a mix of Independent as well as national multiple retailers and service providers, with both larger and smaller unit sizes
a balance between commercial and residential uses within the town centre to provide a better and safer ambience throughout the day
ample car parking (preferably free for a period) and convenient public transport, supported by easy accessibility (town centres are historically better served by public transport than edge of town or out of town locations)
pedestrian-friendly street layouts and wayfinding
heritage, cultural and education facilities, as well as other demographically-relevant social infrastructure
clean, safe and interesting physical environments and public spaces
Kru Desai concludes:
“The ‘terms of engagement’ of local authorities merit a fresh approach. We are persuaded by the idea that formal responsibility for town centres should not just be the prerogative of the local authority, subject as they are to the demands of regular elections and shifting priorities. New forms of long-term partnerships or town centre trusts should be established to oversee and support these arrangements, to sustain the management of prosperous town centres into the future.”
For further information please contact:
Alison Anderson, KPMG Corporate Communications
0113 254 2980
KPMG Press office
Tel: +44 (0) 207 694 8773
KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, is a subsidiary of KPMG Europe LLP and operates from 22 offices across the UK with over 11,000 partners and staff. The UK firm recorded a turnover of £1.7 billion in the year ended September 2011. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. We operate in 152 countries and have 145,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. KPMG International provides no client services.