Is it all about the money, money, money? 

09 Apr 24

But this isn’t just about involving the community, the public sector needs to engage the private sector in an effective way too.

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The future of our town centres is high on the national agenda. But town centre regeneration projects have never been more complicated or expensive to deliver.  

If you started to add it up, the Government has probably committed almost £10bn to be spent over the next 4 – 5 years on town centre regeneration/local economic development, made up of the £1bn Future High Streets Fund, the £2.6bn Towns Fund, the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, an estimated £250m in The National Lottery Heritage Fund and £7.4m from the High Streets Heritage Action Zone scheme. 

But however much money is spent, by whoever, and there’s much political debate at the moment on whether progress has been made on levelling-up targets, we’re going to have a problem in 10, 20 years’ time, needing to parachute in help if you don’t have an ongoing group of people that support a town centre and commercial ventures. There has to be a huge motivational pull to ensure initiatives don’t fizzle out and that the investment benefits are felt long into the future.  

The UK government’s Community Life Survey found 76% of people felt satisfied with the area where they live in May 2023 – down from 79% in 2020-21. So how do you foster a sense of community pride in town centres at a time when it appears to be falling? Involving more people in decision making locally means you will be able to prevent or overcome barriers and problems that may occur in the long term. This in turn means local people will use the facilities, take ownership of their town centre and promote it, which should encourage others to the area.  

But this isn’t just about involving the community, the public sector needs to engage the private sector in an effective way too. Businesses need to have a meaningful voice to ensure the investment is relevant and enables the creation of jobs. The economy is reliant on successful partnership working.  

Decisions need to be undertaken based on strong evidence gathering at the start of a project and a mutually developed and agreed set of outcomes. Research by the Institute of Place Management identified over two hundred factors that can impact on the health of a town centre. Without understanding first, through the use of such data, why a town centre is failing, it’s impossible to reposition it. Equally, assuming something that’s worked in one town, will last in the next, is a common pitfall.   

The future of town centres will likely depend on how well they are able to adapt to changing technology and market conditions. But the best social and economic outcomes are likely to be seen in town centres where there’s been positive collaboration at the start, ensuring faith in the ideas, maximising investment opportunities. 

Philippa Curran Director,Engagement,Place

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