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News - 29 November 2013

[Yet another] report on saving town centres

The Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce has produced a report demanding radical action on a scale not seen since the building programmes of post-war Britain to rejuvenate town centres requires.

The report - Beyond Retail - says that the structural changes needed in provision of retail are so fundamental, many towns and cities will need complete reshaping which will require town centres to be designated as ‘key national infrastructure’ assets to open up new funding opportunities.

The Distressed Town Centre Property Taskforce is composed of senior retailers, property investors, landlords and bankers who are concerned that their commercial assets are being eroded by the changing nature of the High Street and the increasing shift to online shopping.

Perhaps underestimating the effect of the internet since the early seventies there has been a significant increase in bricks & mortar shops with total floorspace increasing by approximately 43 million square metres.

The report suggests that solutions will vary from place to place but for the overwhelming majority, a smaller retail core will be necessary and alternative uses like housing and leisure need to be found for vacant shops. The chairman of the taskforce said: "There's still a need for vibrant retail, just less of it."

Recommendations include:

  • Bold and strategic land assembly with government piloting a joint venture vehicle and an associated High Street property fund to pool land assets and address fragmented ownership.
  • Making it easier for councils to use compulsory purchase powers to bring about the scale required for major urban regeneration
  • Urging local authorities to take more risk in investing capital reserves now, which can be replenished as the economy recovers
  • Significantly greater flexibility in the planning system to enable quick and easy change of use from redundant retail premises to other productive uses e.g. offices, residential etc

The Taskforce says it is up to individual communities and local authorities to decide what is right for their area but "future proofing" towns will require strong local leadership.

The government have already shown themselves to be open to new ideas with their own report following the Portas Review [see earlier story]


In Brighton city centre there are about 1450 shops, not including Hove, London Road or St James’s Street. Towns of similar profile like York, Chester, Guildford etc have an average of about 580 suggesting that Brighton is two and a half times oversupplied with retail premises.

The reason why they thrive is because the majority are independent outlets that have a diversity of offer that is not found in other places in the region; places like the Lanes and North Laine are a tourist attraction in their own right.

But change is coming and although Brighton can capitalise on its unique position with the largest collection of independent retailers in the south east, eventually it too will have to adapt to a retail landscape in which internet shopping grows at 10%+ per annum.

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