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Is this the new model to revitalise the UK's high streets?

The ‘Town Centre Investment Zones’ report shows that asset management of high streets could unlock investment for local authorities to transform their areas. Is this the saviour that the UK high street has been looking for? By Gavin Matthews, Bond Dickinson.


Is this the new model to revitalise the UK's high streets?

The gradual demise of Britain’s high streets has vexed industry leaders, politicians, local communities and many retailers for years. The 2011 Portas Report recommended getting town centres to run more like businesses as a means of reviving the high street. In response to the report, the Government gave funding to 27 areas to help build more diverse town centres but results were mixed and Portas accused the government of making "token gestures".

A new report which was led by Peter Brett Associates, supported by Citi Centric and partners Jonathan Bower and Verity Waington from Bond Dickinson, suggests that Town Centre Investment Management, which involves the pooling of a critical mass of property assets into an investment vehicle, will allow the assets to be managed and curated, rejuvenating the high street.

Having identified that fragmented ownership and poor asset management are overriding factors in the high street’s inability to adapt to change, the British Property Federation Fragmented Ownership group used three town centres (Dartford, Weston-super-Mare and Melton Mowbray) as pilot studies to show that by taking a more structured approach to a high street’s offering, investment can be attracted and bring about fundamental change.

The model enables the existing stock to adapt to the various challenges facing the high street, such as changes in consumer behaviour and demands, and the changing retail landscape. It will allow local authorities to radically transform and future-proof their high streets, ensuring that they have a better consumer offering, which could include housing and more leisure space.

The TCIM model is attractive to investors, who see the new opportunities it presents, delivering scale and growth potential. Retail is traditionally an attractive asset due to its good long-term prospects.

This approach has already been successfully implemented in a number of high profile locations such as Covent Garden, Marylebone High Street and Regent Street in London, but to stimulate its uptake in more town centres across the country more positive action needs to be taken. For example, the areas designated for the asset management treatment should be set up as Town Centre Investment Zones in order to provide coherence, leadership and a clearer focus for all involved and a clear signal to potential investors that all local stakeholders are aligned. These Zones would also benefit from being given, in due course, a range of concessions similar to Enterprise and Housing Zones, as well as the support given to business neighbourhood planning.

Other key recommendations that could help drive this potentially invaluable solution include further financial support from Government to examine how funding prototypes for the pilots might work and well as Government promotion of the concept; the encouragement of investment in town centres by DCLG and the Treasury by developing a package of special incentives or measures that could apply to TCIZs; and the commencement of further work to encourage the establishment of a Town Centre Investment Fund, involving a number of town centre investment opportunities.

Many in the retail sector feel that town centres are too often focused on an outmoded retail that needs substantial structural change. The solution requires more than the superficial and largely cosmetic measures that have so far been applied. A more fundamental approach, using proper asset management techniques, is needed. What the report shows is that localism, Business Improvement Districts and Business Neighbourhood Plans can all be utilised to build consensus around the need for significant structural change.

Through actioning these recommendations, we can secure the long-term viability of our high streets and ensure that our retailers remain at the heart of our local communities.


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