Beyond the Portas review: what next for town centres?
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Beyond the Portas review: what next for town centres?

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Seven challenges facing our town centres if they are to revive and thrive in the future, from a shifting retail environment to climate change - and seven responses.

Seven challenges facing our town centres if they are to revive and thrive in the future, from a shifting retail environment to climate change - and seven responses.

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Beyond the Portas review: what next for town centres? Beyond the Portas review: what next for town centres? Presentation Transcript

  • Beyond the Portas Review What next for town centres? Julian Dobson, Urban Pollinators • www.urbanpollinators.co.uk
  • Challenge 1: A perfect storm for retail Retail is shrinking, polarising and dematerialising. Many town centres are becoming obsolete as shopping destinations.
  • Response: Create places for people If we create spaces where people want to go, commerce will follow. In Melbourne, Australia, the number of pavement café chairs rose from 1,940 in 1993 to 12,570 by 2009. As Ruskin said, there is no wealth but life.
  • Challenge 2: Public services under pressure From ancient times, the agora was a civic hub as well as a market. But we are systematically stripping the civic out of our town centres to achieve short-term financial savings.
  • Response: Reinvent the agora Reconnect the civic with the social. Identify where the human touch and social space make a difference. Reinvent libraries, post offices and advice centres as an ‘information commons’.
  • Challenge 3: An economy that fails town centres Competition for inward investment is a race to the bottom where profit is privatised and risk is socialised. We need to rediscover the civic enterprise of C19 Birmingham.
  • Response: The producer city Repurpose redundant retail space for start-up businesses. Create places of possibility to grow the local economy - like Handpicked Hall in Skipton, Stirling CityLab and local workhubs.
  • Challenge 4: Ghost towns with nothing to offer ‘The whole village was sitting on the mountain when they blew the klaxon horn and the pitheads were blown up. Then all the jobs went and it went very quiet. Then all the shops started closing and that was the end of it.’ (Shirley Bufton, Trelewis, South Wales)
  • Response: Reclaim the streets The prospects of our towns are in the hands of the people who live there. Businesses and councils need to welcome them in and give them space to create their future. Identify and support helpful troublemakers instead of squashing them.
  • Challenge 5: A broken property system Our property system creates an unintended right to blight. Valuations are excessive, business taxation is inequitable, owners are negligent and greedy, and sanctions are ineffective.
  • Response: Reinvent the garden city The founding principle of garden cities was the recycling of profits from land to achieve public benefits. We need to retrofit that principle to our towns, with new rights to access, occupy and improve unused property.
  • Challenge 6: A growing housing crisis 232,000 new households are forming every year, but only 109,000 new homes were completed in 2011/12. Private rents have risen 65% since 2001 and mortgages are increasingly unaffordable.
  • Response: Repurpose retail space as homes Town centres need to be places to live: affordable, well serviced and protected from property exploitation. Tenant-owned co-ops, self-build schemes and community land trusts could create lasting local value in former shop and office space.
  • Challenge 7: Climate change puts towns at risk Many historic towns are prone to flooding and extreme weather. Public space, infrastructure and property need to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
  • Response: Turn town centres into gardens Town centres need to become part of our green infrastructure. Roads can be wildlife corridors. Vacant sites can be urban farms. Retailers can help grow local food networks.
  • The challenge of planning: Is saving our towns too difficult? The response: think about the whole, not just bits. How can you turn your town into a garden, a promenade and a stage? And then make a start...