High street report calls for town centre transformation

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A government-commissioned report has recommended how to spend £675m high street fund announced in the Budget and calls for more local action to transform town centres, including utilising empty shops.

The High Street Report was published by an expert panel set up by high streets minister Jake Berry MP in July 2018 to combat the issues facing UK town centres.

It also sets out how a previously-announced Task Force should support local leaders to use the funding to improve areas such as space management and transport links. “There should not be a ‘one size fits all’ list of characteristics in places to fund, as each town has an individual requirement,” the report adds.

Chairman of retail service chain Timpson and chair of the panel, Sir John Timpson, blamed internet shopping and out-of-town retailing for the increase in empty shops and a decline in footfall.

“Across the country, we have seen the changes facing our high streets and town centres due to the changing nature of retail. Town centres are evolving and retail will not return to the high streets that existed 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.

“By re-planning their town centre space, inspirational local leaders, working in collaboration with all sections of their community have put a buzz back into their town centre, reducing the number of empty shops and increasing footfall. Quite simply: making the town centre a place people want to be.

“My interim recommendations were shared with government in the autumn, ahead of the autumn Budget 2018. Those interim recommendations suggested support for local leadership through access to advice, information and training as well as the provision of capital funding to help places overcome the difficult structural issues and changes facing their town centres.”

A further recommendation - National High Street Perfect Day – is one day a year where local communities would take ownerships of ensuring their town centre looked as good as possible.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive, James Lowman, said: “This report provides a framework for more successful, diverse high streets, driven by collaboration and targeted funding. We welcome the findings of the report, and look forward to continuing our work with the Government through the Retail Sector Council and Future High Streets Forum to help high streets and town centres thrive.”

A report of 2,000 British consumers commissioned by the panel found that over half (53%) of respondents visited their high street once a week, with 13% young people visiting on a daily basis. Of young people, over two-thirds (69%) were very satisfied with their high street compared to 55% of those aged 75 and over.

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