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Review calls for stronger local leadership to save high streets

Greater devolution and stronger local leadership is needed to give high streets a renewed sense of purpose, according to an independent review.

The Grimsey Review 2, which will be launched later today (4 July) at the Local Government Association annual conference in Birmingham, calls for the creation of a town centre commission in each local authority area to develop a 20-year strategy to protect their local high streets.

The independent review, which has been led by the former chief executive of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, Bill Grimsey, also recommends that high streets be re-fashioned as community hubs with housing, health and leisure.

It also recommends councils create ‘events teams’ to help drive footfall to their local high streets and calls on ministers to give local authorities extra powers to penalise landlords who leave commercial properties empty for long periods of time.

It also recommends each town have a landlord register, which would be able to trace the owner of every single property and engage with them in the health and wellbeing of the place.

In addition, it also recommends council limit the amount they will charge for the first two hours of parking in town centres to £1 to encourage more visitors.

The Grimsey report comes just a week after the think tank Centre for Cities warned too many high streets are struggling because they have too many shops and not enough space for other businesses.

Commenting ahead of the launch of the review, Bill Grimsey said there had been some progress since his original review five years ago, but not nearly enough.

‘In our first review in 2013 we argued that there is no point clinging to a sentimental vision of the past and that we need to start planning for a bold new world. This is still very much the case and we need to look to the future,’ said Mr Grimsey.

‘What we have seen during our research this time is that some very good initiatives have been put in place up and down the country over the last five years. These need to be celebrated, but progress is too slow and the retail landscape is rapidly changing.

‘The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations and CVAs for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown. Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21stcentury.

‘Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks that are convenient and with free parking. They must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there – being interesting and engaging and altogether, a compelling and great experience.

‘There are, however, many barriers to progress including business rates, complex layers of government and the current fiscal environment, added Mr Grimsey.

‘There is a lack of an independent evidence-based organisation in England and Wales to help towns recognise, react to and realise the opportunity that the current changes bring. As a nation we must give every high street and town centre the best possible chance to flourish.’

 

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