High street jobs: Key Cities solutions for town and city centres

high street jobs, Key Cities
London Skyline at night, include City Hall, skyscrapers, London Bridge, seeing from Tower Bridge at low tide. © Anizza

A record number of high street jobs are under threat in 2019: but could this be prevented? Read on to find out the potential solutions being discussed in local government

Research conducted in collaboration with Infusion Research finds that:

• Improvements to housing, night-time economies, public realm and events cited as priority areas for the vitality of town and city centres

• The future of the UK’s towns and city centres will be reliant on a learning process that draws upon best practice

• Key Cities recommendations draw upon the insights and expertise of 24 mid-sized cities from across the UK

Key Cities has today published the findings of its report into ‘The Future of our Town and City Centres’. With a record number of high street stores and jobs under threat in 2019, the report was unveiled at a significant conference on the future of town and city centres, allowing the Key Cities members to discuss best practice and potential solutions to the issues facing the UK’s high streets.

The report, developed in conjunction with Insight Research, demonstrates that Key Cities have fared well in facing major changes in consumer spending habits compared with national averages for England and Wales. The conference itself brought together experts and key stakeholders from across the public, private and academic sectors.

At the event, a number of keynote speakers, including Bill Grimsey (author of the Government’s reviews into the future of UK high streets), Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, and Andrew Carter from the think tank Centre for Cities, addressed the variety of challenges and opportunities facing our towns and cities.

Key Cities is a diverse group of 24 mid-sized cities, all with large central area footprints and extensive retail floor space. As discussions grow around the future uses of centres for retail, housing and leisure, the Key Cities will be at the fore when it comes to applying innovative approaches to maximising the potential of their centres.

In terms of the total retail units in an area, the Key Cities have increased the total number of units by 1.9% since 2013, significantly higher than the average for both England (0.9%) and Wales (0.1%). Further illustrating that Key Cities are at the heart of the shifting town centre environment, 23 of the 24 Key Cities have increased their total unit numbers since 2013.

The report also found that housing in city centres continues to paint a diverse picture. The number of housing units has grown steadily over recent years, with the town centres of Huddersfield (+30%), Derby (+25%), Bournemouth (+22%), Bradford and Southampton (both +21%) all achieving significant increases to housing stock from 2015 to 2018, compared with an average across England and Wales of just +3%. Further to this, in 20 Key Cities areas, housing is more affordable in the majority town centres than the boroughs and only two key Cities are ranked as less affordable compared with the national average.

To develop a picture of perceptions “on the ground” in the Key Cities, the Group conducted a survey of those in senior roles influencing the strategies and direction of town and city centres. The Local View survey included questions around 21 potential priorities for centres and found that the improvement or delivery of housing was the most common priority, with 18 of the 19 respondents citing this as a priority for improvement. Other priorities that featured prominently were the night time economy, public realm and events, all cited by more than three-quarters of respondents.

Whilst the survey reported a degree of commonality, cities identified 13 priorities on average. This reflects both the diversity and scale of work for local authorities to ensure that progress is made and the individual requirements of cities are fulfilled. Key Cities, therefore, recommends developing a holistic approach that maintains a clear, strategic focus with the need for partnerships to ensure effective progress against the range of priorities reported in the survey.

In order for the Key Cities centres to maintain their relevance, they must ensure the functions they host provide a positive experience for visitors and local residents. The research concludes that city and centres primarily exist to provide social and economic opportunities for all.

Cllr Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council and Chair, Key Cities Group, commented:
“The mission for us all is to ensure that our city and town centres evolve to meet the demands of consumers, visitors and residents, whilst being resilient in times of economic downturn or radical change.

Partnership and innovation are core values of the Key Cities Group. As our research has shown, the future success of the UK’s town centres is heavily dependent on collaboration.

“Our town and city centres conference has provided a platform for discussion between stakeholders and policymakers to ensure that UK cities and towns are prepared for the future, whilst providing an opportunity to learn about examples of best practice from the UK and beyond.”

Bill Grimsey, author of the Grimsey Reviews into the future of the UK high street added:
“With this research, Key Cities has highlighted the most pressing issues for the UK’s town and city centres and has laid out examples of good practice to follow. In setting the agenda for community engagement and dialogue, we now have a blueprint that will be invaluable in repurposing our centres and shaping future policy asks.”

Key Cities is a collaboration of 24 mid-sized cities from across the UK to ensure all members are placed on a sustainable footing to deliver continued, inclusive economic growth. The group seeks to generate awareness of the economic contributions of its member cities and to develop solutions to the constraints preventing growth and further prosperity for the UK.


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