High Streets

High fives for the High Street Fund?

High street expert and friend of Create Streets, John Parmiter, considers yesterdays Budget announcement on Britain’s high streets….

At last!  The Future High Street Fund. The Government has really woken up to the plight of the High Street with some real money and a focus on real local change, not frothy short-term projects. The pot is big enough to make a difference in many places – £675 million and is intended to be added to other public and private sector funds in up to £25m dollops per local area. The focus is to help local areas adapt to change.  To do this it is to be targeted at two factors: infrastructure (transport, parking and accessibility improvements, public realm enhancement and so on) and land assembly.  I led the work on one of the reports quoted in the launch document – Town Centre Investment Zones, for the British Property Foundation – which shows how to overcome the core problem of fragmented ownership. And to make a difference our work demonstrated that a critical mass of assets need to be acquired, not just a few shops. That stock then needs to be re-configured, curated, marketed as a destination so that it can influence the whole town centre to change for the better: incorporating more living, leisure, local services and learning centres (the so-called ‘four Ls’).

There are two main things missing from the prospectus outline:

  1. The long-term resilience of the entity that acquires the assets. Successful adaptation requires more than assembly and re-configuration; town centres need to be able to continue to adapt. The current crisis in shopping centres, which are so challenging to adapt organically, shows that a single fix doesn’t do it.  The plans that local towns come forward with for this money must tackle the “ongoing” need to adapt if they are to survive and thrive. This means addressing the nature of the vehicle that owns the assets to be acquired, its long-tern funding and the role of the public sector within it. The local authority can be good facilitators but rarely town centre asset managers. The emphasis on partnership is welcome.
  2. Harnessing the power of the property investment sector. At present few property companies and investment funds go into town centre regeneration as the risks are too high (and the hassles too great), despite holding funds that might be available. This new High Street Fund could help create a national town centre fund that invests in baskets of new schemes. If the new Future High Street Fund helps local authorities create investable propositions that can be taken to a point beyond the “risk barrier” to attract available investment money a great deal could be achieved.

John Parmiter is the Director of Future High Streets.