Community-led approach needed to rejuvenate high streets, report suggests

A community-driven approach is needed to rejuvenate high streets, a report into the issues facing town centres has concluded.

Businessman Sir John Timpson, who chaired an expert panel which was asked to advise on how central government could help ailing high streets, suggested empowering local leaders to reinvent town centres.

He recommended an “Upside Down Government” approach to enable community figures to design future town centres that recreate a “community hub”.

Sir John said that retail will not return to the high streets that existed 10 or 20 years ago, but he put forward suggestions to help places overcome the “difficult structural issues and changes” they face.

He advocated communities celebrating their town centres with a “National High Street Perfect Day” to tackle litter and graffiti, so people can “take pride” in their local shopping centres.

“Everyone can improve high street and town centre housekeeping through a determined campaign to eliminate litter and graffiti,” he wrote in The High Street Report.

“Our suggestion is to have a ‘National High Street Perfect Day’ – one day in the year when every shopping street looks the best it possibly can. This should be a locally led and funded initiative that draws on expertise from a range of partners.”

And he said reimagining town centres should not be seen as a “central programme dictated by government”.

“It is a series of locally inspired and led initiatives that are supported by a government that offers information and helps to clear obstacles out of the way.

“I think of it as ‘Upside Down Government’: providing help on a town by town basis, enabling local leaders to design future town centres that recreate a community hub.”

Sir John said: “When the panel was formed, we knew high streets would never be the same again, but we were delighted to discover places where imaginative developments have increased footfall and reduced the number of empty shops.

“By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.

“I have learnt, from my own business, that the best way to get things done is to give people on the front line the freedom to get on with the job in the way they know best.

“We are applying the same Upside Down Government principle to the development of our town centres, with our Town Centre Task Force there to mentor, encourage and clear any obstacles out of the way while giving the clear message to inspirational local leaders that they are free to turn their plans into reality.”

High Streets Minister Jake Berry said: “High streets and town centres play an important role in the life of our communities.

“I thank Sir John and the panel members who have worked extremely hard and proposed tangible ways to keep these treasured spaces alive and thriving for generations.

“We have already taken action by announcing plans to set up a Future High Streets Fund and Task Force, alongside slashing business rates for up to a third of small retailers. We will carefully consider these recommendations.”