A North East research study into how to create thriving town centres will reveal its recommendations on Wednesday, 21 November 2018 at the Copthorne Hotel, Newcastle.
North East England Chamber of Commerce and its Partner Member, planning specialists Lichfields, compiled the report based on roundtable discussions in places with different characteristics - Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Berwick, Hexham and Stanley.
One of the most important routes to success which came out of the views, collected from a range of stakeholders and retailers themselves, was the need for town centres to create a distinct vision of what their future role should be, then plan for it.
Also among its key findings was the opinion that town centres need to expand what they offer, in particular for families, develop a USP, support independent shops and have a regular events programme.
Rachel Anderson, Chamber assistant director of policy said: “Town centres are going through a difficult time at present and to be successful they need to find new ways of working. Some of the changes we recommend will be easier than others, such as providing business support measures.
“There needs to be short, medium and long term goals set and genuine co-operation between all players including retailers, independents, national chains, local authorities and the private sector.We must have civic pride in our town centres and its everyone’s responsibility to achieve this if they are to thrive.”
Jonathan Wallace, senior director and head of Lichfields’ Newcastle office, said it had undertaken discussions with stakeholders in the region’s centres and analysed current trends and data in compiling the report.
The report finds that town centres are currently facing multiple challenges including from the growth in on-line shopping, increasing competition from out of centre stores and retail parks, and an ageing customer base.
It says more local authorities should use their powers to tackle long term issues of absentee landlords and dilapidated buildings, with this issue contributing to the knock-on effect of the loss of civic pride a thriving and well-presented town centre brings.
Mr Wallace believes all town centre stakeholders must work together to ensure their High Street is no longer viewed as merely a shopping destination.
“Many are now responding to the challenges by looking to other uses to fill the gaps left by retail – including leisure, cultural and community facilities – and it is important that this continues.
“Further thought and action needs to be given to viewing town centres as public spaces which can be used for meeting and socialising as well as public events, such as; live music and entertainment, speciality markets and other festivals.
“By doing this, we can help to re-establish them as the heart of the community and somewhere people will naturally look to enjoy spending their free time,” he said.