For the first time since the pandemic, the Local Government Association hosted its Annual Conference and Exhibition in person in Harrogate on 28th – 30th June. Described as the “biggest event in the local government calendar”, hundreds of local authority delegates, from parish councillors to Chief Executives, came together to discuss the latest issues affecting local government.
4th July 2022
The Institute of Place Management was represented at the LGA conference by Junior Fellow, Joe Barratt, who attended a session on the Future of High Streets alongside High Streets Task Force board member, Margaret Dale. Margaret spoke as part of panel which included Mike Greene, the Chief Executive of Scarborough Council and John Percy, Head of Town Centres at Montagu Evans.
High Streets are changing, as they always have
Margaret Dale opened the session by noting how high streets are changing but that they always have done. Historically, town centres have been seen through the lens of infrastructure rather than through the eyes of people, but that the changes brought by the pandemic have started to see a shift towards the need for more people-focused places.
Margaret went on to discuss the role of the High Streets Task Force in helping to bring about this change, particularly in helping to establish more effective partnerships and promoting good place leadership.
Tackling challenges through partnership in Scarborough
Mike Green began his presentation by talking about some of the issues that Scarborough faces including pockets of deprivation, a highly seasonal economy and the challenge of retaining local young people, before moving on to discuss the steps they are taking to tackle these issues. This includes developing strong partnerships with the business, community and voluntary sector, as well as intervening where the private sector has failed.
This partnership approach can be seen in Scarborough council’s decision to purchase The Brunswick Centre, which used to be home to Debenhams, to bring forward a vision of delivering a new mixed-use offer in the town by working in a joint venture with Scarborough International Group (SGI).
Within his talk, Mike also mentioned a number of the 25 factors that the IPM have found to be the key influencers of vitality and viability, including improving a town centre’s appearance, activity and accessibility, and stressed the real opportunity that towns have to embrace the ‘work from anywhere’ revolution.
Scarborough has already taken an active role in addressing this by launching its own place-marketing campaign to extol the benefits of living and working in the seaside resort.
Interventionist approaches to retail diversification
The final presentation of the session was delivered by John Percy, of property consultancy firm Montagu Evans. In exploring the ingredients to success, John believed that the same ingredients could be used in exactly the same way in two different places but could lead to radically different results, simply because the dynamics don’t work the same in each place.
John went on to explore how the seeds of failure in many places now were sewn a long time ago, with 50% of all retail sales at one point going through TESCO, and reflected upon how out-of-town retail continues to have a detrimental impact on the viability of town centres, with Marks and Spencer the latest retailer to announce its plans to move out-of-town with its store portfolio over the next three years.
Concluding his presentation, John gave a number of examples of places who, like Scarborough, are taking an interventionist role in driving forward town centre change. He referenced Aylesbury town centre, who recently acquired Friars Square shopping centre and are currently exploring what the offering should be, and Shrewsbury, who have also purchased two shopping centres and have plans to build a cinema, a new multi-agency, a 'transport hub', two hotels, offices, and up to 270 homes in place of the existing Riverside Shopping Centre.
The session ended with questions from the floor about charity shops, Business Improvement Districts, out-of-town vs in-town development, and last-mile logistics. There was certainly a lot of interest in the session, with the room full to the brim with delegates, and could have easily gone on for another hour or more.
The quality and diversity of the issues covered by the panellists was championed by both delegates and conference organisers after the event. Hopefully they’ll be even more opportunity at future LGA events to share the work of the High Streets Task Force with those working in local government.