The rejuvenation of local community hubs is reliant on the innovation of local authorities, said Sir John Timpson’s The High Street Report, published today.
The report promoted an “upside-down government” approach to create community hubs and empower local authorities to design their own strategies.
“Local initiative is an essential ingredient for success,” Timpson said. “This report won’t offer places a standard off-the-shelf process because a one-size-fits-all solution will not work. Local teams, which may comprise of local government, businesses and community groups, in each town must discover a culture and central purpose that unites their community, and attracts them to the town’s central hub.”
It outlined a number of short- and long-term solutions.
Timpson called for an “open doors” brokerage approach that matches landlords of empty properties with local community groups looking for space, where market rent deals cannot be agreed.
In an effort to clean up town centres, the retail guru, and chairman and owner of the Timpson key-cutting to shoe-repairing chain, which has more than 2,000 stores, suggested introducing “National High Street Perfect Day” – a locally led effort to remove graffiti and eliminate litter.
It is also recommended that local authorities review their parking provisions to make sure they support access to local businesses and help increase footfall.
Timpson suggested that the £675m Future High Streets Fund, announced by the chancellor in the 2018 Budget, should be provided on a shared-funding basis to promote interest from commercial partners in local areas.
The implementation of these suggestions would be overseen by a proposed High Streets Task Force. The advisory body would provide peer support and training for local authorities and business leaders to boost their capacity in planning and designing innovative high streets.
The group would also advise those applying for the Future High Streets Fund and disseminate good practice for those not awarded aid.
“The message to local leaders is you can do it. We are here to help,” said Timpson, “Some may fail but many more will create the town centres we need in 20 years’ time.”
Responding to the recommendations, Ed Cooke, chief executive of commercial property body, Revo stressed the need for action and further consideration of an online sales tax: ”We remain disappointed by the limited action the government has taken to support and protect our industry, one which employs more than 3 million people and constitutes 5% (gross value added) of the total UK economy.
”The chancellor has explicitly ruled out an online sales tax, yet the present framework continues to skew our marketplace against high streets and in favour of the digital economy.
“We believe reform must begin by overhauling the outdated business rates system and creating a fairer system of taxation that recognises where wealth is being created in a modern retail economy.
“This is why we have written to the chancellor to urgently meet with us and senior business leaders to discuss the future of our town centres.”