Fragmented ownership and poor asset management are hobbling the ability of British high streets to adapt.
But that could all be about to change, if a recent pilot project supported by the British Property Federation is taken seriously. A new report showed that an approach using Town Centre Investment Management can help unlock investment, and allow for the transformation of tired retail centres.
Liz Peace, former head of the British Property Federation, headed the BPF’s Fragmented Ownership Group which looked at the problems: “Many town centres are currently focussed on an outmoded retail that needs substantial structural change. Resurrecting their fortunes will not be achieved simply by the superficial and largely cosmetic measures that have so far been applied. This new and more fundamental approach, using proper asset management techniques, offers us the best and maybe the only, hope of making lasting and beneficial change.”
The solution is not only explained in a new report, put together by Peter Brett Associates, Bond Dickinson and Citi Centric, but has also been trialled in three urban centres: Melton Mowbray, Weston Super Mare and Dartford. London mayor Boris Johnson is also funding a further pilot study in London, along with a toolkit to help deliver the model, all backed via his High Street Fund.
By pooling property assets into a single investment vehicle, those assets can be better managed and curated. Pooling can be carried out voluntarily or by acquisition of assets, with compulsory purchase the ultimate option should that be needed.
Once assets are managed under a single umbrella, then it is easier to attract investment, and build a consensus for change.
The report also notes the role that can be played by intensifying residential use in existing urban centres, something the GLA has already looked at in London centres: “There is considerable scope for combining the restructuring and adaptation of our town centres, which is principally focused on street-level activities, with developing new housing on upper floors.”
The report makes a number of suggestions, encouraging the government to provide funds to support further development of the concept. It suggests the DCLG could promote TCIM as a route to improve failing town centres, perhaps by developing incentives to encourage the use of the concept. It also calls on the DCLG to engage with the private sector, to set up a Town Centre Investment Fund that could help support a wide number of initiatives in retail centres.
LPA Perspective: Plenty of areas of central London have seen the positive impact of Business Improvement Districts, with landlords coming to understand that their financial support can help deliver real returns, as their properties gain in value from being part of a more attractive place.
This initiative being promoted by the BPF takes the same philosophy out into smaller retail centres, with the same logic being applied. This form of self-help is what lots of London’s smaller retail centres need, to bring them back to their levels of former vibrancy. That, and having more people living over the shop, will help recreate the street life of the capital’s retail strips.