24 March 2016
LONDON - Town Centres were front and centre of the discussion at the launch of the British Property Federation’s report on Town Centre Investment Zones in London last night.
Liz Peace, who was CEO of the BPF at the time of the beginning of this work, has continued to lead the development of this concept through to its conclusion, and led the discussion with the support of an eminent panel. In her introduction, she explained the origins of the work in the development of a report by John Parmiter, then of Peter Brett Associates, on the concept of Town Centre Investment Management in 2013.
This report sought to move the discussion about town centre renewal from the facilities management solutions associated with Mary Portas’s work, to one about asset management solutions aimed at addressing the key issue of fragmented ownership – identified as one of the key barriers to the revitalisation of town centres.
In a lively debate about the latest report on Town Centre Investment Zones (by Peter Brett Associates, Citicentric and Bond Dickinson on behalf of the BPF), amongst the property professionals, developers and local authorities in the audience, there was general agreement about the need to reduce the amount of retail floor space in many town centres, and to use the opportunity to introduce other uses such as housing, employment, food and beverage, civic and leisure uses in a more mixed use environment, thus meeting the needs of local communities.
There was a healthy debate about what the TCIZ concept might entail. Whilst there were questions about how universally the TCIM investment model might apply, there was little disagreement about the need for strong leadership, a compelling vision, consistent governance and policy frameworks tied into the development plan process. There were many potential solutions to the issue of fragmented ownership debated, but the common aim of creating an environment in which key assets in the core town centre area can be managed over time, and the redevelopment of fringe areas delivered, was not disputed.
There was a sense of urgency in the discussion, as this challenge has been known for some time, and real progress requires investment to be attracted into restructuring and asset management programmes – and as time has passed, so the need for action has become more urgent. This, it was suggested, is not just to create solutions to high vacancy levels and poor town centre environments, or to just to provide much needed sites for the delivery of housing, but also to prevent further erosion of the brand reputation of towns as a whole and the consequent disincentive to much-needed wider investment and regeneration.
Even more fundamentally, some local authorities have identified the creation of investable town centre propositions as one potential solution to the development of sustainable revenue streams which can bolster, and even replace lost central government grant which hitherto many local authorities have been relying on for the maintenance of public services.
There was clearly an appetite for practical steps to be made now to test the ideas in the report, with the results being used to inform and refine techniques for town centre restructuring. With the identification of town centres as a key opportunity for housing in the recent Starter Homes Prospectus, perhaps the Government is getting the message.