Councils urgently need to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships to prevent future ‘levelling up’ investment from being wasted, a new report has warned.
It follows the launch of a new report identifying some of the key challenges the High Streets Task Force, run by the Institute of Place Management, has uncovered from visits to over 140 towns over the past four years.
Highlighting how chronic staff shortages, the failure to develop partnerships and an inability to develop a compelling place vision is preventing towns from unlocking their potential, the review urges councils and government to encourage a new approach to turning around struggling high streets.
“Over the last four years, our team of experts has seen lots of good practice but there are many worrying examples of silo thinking holding towns back,” explained Professor Cathy Parker, Co-Chair of the Institute of Place Management and Research Lead for the High Streets Task Force.
“Almost 40 per cent of towns we visited had no real partnerships or place governance to deliver the transformative change that their high streets need. This means they weren’t working with the business community, community organisations or other partners such as police and housing organisations to develop plans or a compelling place vision.
“On top of which they had chronic staff shortages, which often resulted in only a few people from broad roles such as economic development being nominally responsible for place development across many town centres. As a result, projects don’t command the full confidence of communities, were delivered in a disjointed manner and are not getting the expected returns on investment. There is a huge amount of latent resource, passion for communities and local expertise that they are just not tapping into.”
With recent news reports suggesting that a lack of resource was a major contributory factor behind levelling up funds being unspent, the new research points out that an average local authority can have three and seven retail centres within its boundary and they were struggling to support them all.
The report also found that 60 per cent of towns visited by Task Force experts did not have an activation plan and were not running sufficient activities, events and festivals to attract people in to use their town centre. Further analysis also found that only 35 per cent of place visions behind funding bids were deemed to be transformational and that over 30 per cent of local authorities requested delays to support services by the Task Force due to a lack of staff.
“Technological and behavioural changes are continuing to disrupt our towns and the modern high street needs constant attention to meet changing demands and urgently adapt,” said Matt Colledge, Project Director for the High Streets Task Force.
“It’s not sustainable to bank everything on one or two long-term capital projects, high streets need to see immediate changes and you only get these quick wins with robust partnerships. High streets have been over simplified for too long and we need to see the same mindset shift that we saw in health, which has put partnership working at the centre of dealing with myriad issues in a complex environment. Unless we change our approach to high street regeneration, we simply won’t deliver the change that our towns are crying out for.”
Making the Most of High Street Investment: A High Streets Task Force Review is available here.