Government support for town centres is not just happening in the UK. As towns across England wait to hear whether their Future High Street Fund bid is short-listed, Scottish towns put together proposals to spend their Town Fund allocations, and MHCLG consider applications to run the five year Task Force, a five year French Government €5 billion initiative to support the regeneration of 222 town centres is now entering its second year.

Action coeur de ville was announced in March 2018 and the 222 towns were named (see below). The fund has five objectives:

  • rehabilitating and restructuring housing in town centres to improve its appeal
  • promoting balanced economic and business development
  • improving accessibility, mobility and connectivity
  • enhance the built environment, public space and heritage
  • provide access to public facilities and services

So what has been happening? There has been work by the Ministry of Culture with individual towns and cities to review the systems that cover conservation and historic buildings to ensure they are a major contributor to city revitalization. The Culture Ministry has also been working with local authorities on a plan bibliothèque (library plan) to encourage libraries to extend opening hours and promote the role of libraries in the fields of culture, education, social and digital.

Another initiative being developed from the Ministry of Culture is working with cities to pilot Creative Cultural Quarters which aim to bring together retail and cultural spaces around heritage areas that would then provide business support, including incubator and co-working space for cultural entrepreneurs. Another part of the action that the Ministry of Culture is driving is working with theatres, concert halls, art centres and the like to develop additional services such as cafes, bookshops, fablabs, meeting spaces and so to create footfall and activity at times they were otherwise closed.

Progress has been made in other areas. €1.2 billion of the available funding has been allocated to rehabilitate private housing in the towns. Towns had to bid for an allocation and it was announced in April that 111 cities had been awarded funds, 53 of which will get expert support to launch a call for local projects in June, and 58 will get support to refine their projects.

Pilot schemes are being identified by individual towns and some are already going ahead. Work is also underway in each city to identify longer term schemes and to sign agreements to deliver these. Over 500 projects had been identified by the end of last year.

Although the funding is from central government and the agency in each case is the local authority, the guidance says that Action coeur de ville can only succeed with the mobilization of all the local actors sharing the interest of the community to revitalize the heart of city: economic actors (traders and associations of merchants), craftsmen, restorers, tourism professionals, financial investors, but also the actors of the environment and urban planning, housing, transport and logistics, security, health or culture. Although there have been a number of French cities that have a form of Town Centre Management, these have very often been under the local Mayor or run through the Chamber of Commerce. This concept of widening engagement may change the nature of place management in France.