As major stakeholders in their towns Local Authorities have come under increasing pressure to support their high streets and invest in property to halt the decline of our town centres. Who better to revitalise and inject a sense of community spirit and take the steps needed to reinvigorate failing high streets?
There has been plenty of activity in this regard from local authorities that comes with greater scrutiny and criticism which is expected as this is still relatively new. There is a perception that local authorities paying reasonable prices for failing shopping centres when there is so much talk about the death of the high street is a poor decision and use of tax payers money.
However, having spent 2 years working to reinvigorate a failing shopping centre purchased by a local authority, I’m in the fortunate position of understanding the positive impact this can have on a community both in terms of the businesses and the the local economy, halting the decline of a town centre and encouraging inward investment. I must admit when asked to devise a strategy for Park Mall a shopping centre that was a third empty and having a negative impact on the surrounding businesses, anchor shopping centre and the perception of the town, it was a daunting task to undertake. Initiatives delivered by Ashford Borough Council slashed a 21% town vacancy rate to 7%, way below the national average. Park Mall shopping centre is now thriving with much improved footfall and a 100% occupancy. A wonderful example of a community shopping experience.
Local Authorities continue to be under immense pressure from the public and more than a private landlord would ever experience. There has been a number of high-profile purchases of shopping centres including Canterbury City Council, and in Shropshire where the local authority purchased 3 shopping centres to support the economic growth and regeneration of the towns.
The need to take control of a commercial asset is the underlying reason for local authorities to acquire a failing shopping centre and the opportunity to make a success of the centre and the wider town centre building confidence from major stakeholders and the wider regeneration of an area.
In my opinion some of the key benefits are clear:
- Halting further decline and damage to the town.
- Improving the perception and the environment of the entire town. through direct actions and storytelling.
- Generating local employment.
- Directly supporting the wider regeneration of the town by taking more control, thus opening up conversations and relationships with existing and future stakeholders.
- Identifying potential residential sites.
- Growth of commercial rental rates as startups/businesses grow and flourish.
- Opening up conversations with existing landlords on the benefits for all on lower vacancy rates and the future direction for towns.
- Creating a feel good factor for the town, that all stakeholders are a part of.
Whilst retail is going through a unprecedented evolution not witnessed for many years, it is not an option to allow failing shopping centres to continue being managed by inactive landlords. Our towns and local authorities need to fight their corner and in my experience who better than the local authority, given their aspiration to support the growth of town centres. Ashford Borough Council – a trail blazer in this regard purchasing an ailing shopping centre, employing a retail specialist to advise them and deliver a strategy to halt the further decline, seeing the bigger picture, supporting the entire town centre and increasing footfall, dwell time and subsequent inward investment.
We would love to hear about your thoughts and insights on the evolution our future town centres.