Town centres must offer more than just retail

I might’ve said this here before, that towns and cities need wider economic development policies that simply regenerating their retail town centres.

Camberley Car ShowWhat we need are policies that bring people into our towns, who aren’t all shoppers, but people who work or live there. There’s a trend for empty offices in Camberley to be converted in apartments. I fully understand that we need more homes; this though is at the cost of reducing the employment vibrancy of our town. Successful events that bring footfall to the town, such as the Camberley Car Show, are great. They are not the whole answer.

A while back I reviewed the report on the Future of Cities, not wholly appropriate to small towns. Really usefully a new report – Future of the High Street – by the Future Spaces Foundation suggests policymakers should focus on a broader footfall for towns than just retail. This is just the approach  we need.

The report highlights the onslaught that online shopping is having on the High Street retail economy. In the report, Paul Swinney, senior economist at Centre for Cities says,

“Retail is a secondary activity with city centres. Primary activities are things like work, residential living, tourism and leisure. If you don’t have that footfall, then there is no market for retailers”
“This report shows that the combination of education, research and employment opportunities .. is one route that national and local government can use for rejuvenating our High Street from an economic and a social perspective.”

The report contains many useful ideas. Just picking out a few suggestions for locating in town centres,

  • Cultural centres such as library and museum
  • Micro-brewery
  • Manufacturing, through businesses using 3D printing technology
  • Variety of learning institutions, further education and adult education college
  • Places for mobile commerce

This report expresses my thoughts exactly. I know it’s target market is the city high streets. Small towns can use this thinking too.
I’ve long held the view that tourism in Surrey Heath is an untapped market. It’s surely better to incorporate leisure and cultural centres right in the centre of towns.

Finally, I read an article in CityA.M. by Mark Boleat on How evolving City offices are positioning for the next big tech breakthrough’, where neatly expresses my vision for town centres, thus

“A communal space within multi-let buildings also enables like-minded people to share ideas and build new contacts. This is why the City Corporation is supporting the Innovation Warehouse incubator scheme, which provides peer-led support for start-ups.”

Sure, much of the report and comments relate to cities. We shouldn’t ignore the findings and concepts because we don’t think they apply to us.

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