In summer 2020, Selby District Council faced the challenge of combining the immediate requirements for reopening Selby town centre as part of COVID 19 recovery planning, with delivering existing long-term priorities for revitalisation.
This case study summarises how, in doing so, Selby adopted an approach of reopening the town centre in a safe and welcoming way while adding to long-term revitalisation planning through rapid learning, testing of new ideas, developing local capacity and partnership working. To help achieve this, Selby turned to the guidance in the LGA’s updated self-assessment ‘town centre checklist’ for assessing progress with such a comprehensive approach.
How to combine the immediate requirements for re-opening a town centre as part of post-COVID 19 recovery planning with delivering, existing long-term priorities for revitalisation. This is the challenge faced by Selby District Council and local authorities across the United Kingdom in summer 2020.
The long-term challenges and priorities for revitalising Selby town centre have been determined through extensive survey work and community engagement undertaken over the 12 months to February 2020.
In common with many similar towns, the recent research in Selby town centre identified a series of interconnected challenges requiring an integrated response:
- Boosting business confidence: The responses to a survey of business confidence in Selby town centre indicated that 40% said turnover had decreased over the last year compared to 27% nationally.
- Changing customer experience: The headline responses from town centre users called for positive changes with a third of on-street (39%) and online (32%), respondents saying that the town centre experience had worsened in recent years.
- Creating a more accessible place: Travel is perceived as a physical barrier preventing local people making more and better use of the town centre with traffic considered a negative by 65% of businesses and car parking by 55%.
- Widening the customer base: Recent analysis of town centre users’ characteristics suggested a need and opportunity to widen the customer base, change the way customers can use the town and embrace growth.
- Enhancing the streetscape and built heritage: The physical appearance of the town as an important backcloth for economic and cultural activity, was considered as a positive by 67% of regular users though only 39% of online respondents.
- Enhancing culture and leisure: The popularity of the town’s cafes and restaurants (71%), relative to the modest level of provision suggest growth potential in hospitality and the evening economy.
- Adapting retail’s role: Part of the economic challenge facing the town centre will be to help develop, diversify and promote existing retail mix which was amongst the most negatively perceived aspects of the town centre by its regular users.
- Developing digitally: The need to make its businesses, services and attractions more digitally accessible and desirable is highlighted by high demand from customers for the development of digital services such as social media engagement (51%).
The additional challenge facing Selby following the advent of the COVID-19 crisis from March 2020, like town centres across the country, was how to continue to plan for the long-term future whilst responding to the immediate crisis.
The response led by Selby District Council has been to incorporate COVID-19 recovery planning within an integrated response to revitalising the town centre. In doing so, the District Council has adopted an approach of reopening the town centre in a safe and welcoming way which seeks to add to the long-term revitalisation planning through rapid learning, testing of new ideas, developing local capacity and partnership working. Selby was already starting from a stronger position because of the foundations provided by the existing town centre research, engagement and planning.
To help combine short-term recovery and long-term revitalisation planning, Selby adopted the guidance in the LGA’s updated revitalising town centres toolkit under the watchful eye of the People & Places Partnership. In fact, Selby became the first town in the country to use the updated self-assessment ‘town centre checklist’ for councils in assessing the combined approach. This checklist uses a series of prompts to help gauge the combination of the current recovery response and long-term revitalisation planning. It is a rapid, reflective process for local authorities and place partnerships to use in assessing planning and priorities for recovery and revitalisation.
Here are some of the highlights from the self-assessment of long-term action planning for revitalising Selby town centre integrated with immediate steps for reopening and recovery. The assessment aligns with the themes in the Selby town centre 2030 vision for a well-connected place:
“A 21st Century connected, accessible & progressive town with a lively, active historic centre surrounded by high quality urban neighbourhoods and with diverse, thriving businesses.”
Below are some extracts from the self-assessment town centre checklist for revitalisation and recovery planning, presented by Selby’s themes for creating a well-connected place.
Theme 1 (physically connected): Growth and access underpinning enterprise & services.
Travel, parking and access: The defined long-term objective is to plan for & provide necessary infrastructure to serve as a powerful catalyst to shift & improve accessibility to & within the town centre. This incorporates key ‘gateways’ which includes from housing growth sites and an adjacent transport hub. This is part of a Selby Station masterplan with £17.5m funding package recently secured through the Transforming Cities Fund. The Selby town centre reopening plan includes actions to test and develop this long-term approach including relocating bus stops; bicycle racks & temporary cycle lanes; temporary traffic orders to enable pedestrianisation and increase footfall in ‘boutique’ streets; risk audit of car parks including assessing feasibility of contactless payment.
Theme 2 (culturally connected): Enhancing an authentic heritage, culture, environment and vibrant economy.
Streetscape and public realm: One of the key objectives of the long-term action plan is to conserve Selby’s built heritage & celebrate its culture as part of the distinctive identity of the town centre in a way that improves users’ experiences & businesses’ performance. Developing the longer term work helped to secure £500,000 of funding from the High Street Heritage Action Zone programme to initiate this. The plan for reopening the town centre provides a sequence of steps that advance this aim of improving users’ experiences and businesses’ performance. These begin with meeting immediate needs through town-wide, on-street and in-shop reminders of social distancing and are followed by proposals for attractive, town-branded visuals using local heritage information and designs to strongly convey safe and welcoming messages. The potential creation of safe public realm for socialising with seating plus stewarding in some instances, will be considered as plans develop.
Theme 3 (digitally connected): Supporting business and digital development
Digital technology and data: The revitalisation action plan includes an objective to work with business & community stakeholder groups to support the prominent development of digital skills/services & to facilitate investment in digital infrastructure. A first-year digital development timetable has been agreed that combines boosting the town-wide digital profile whilst monitoring impacts on-line and on-street through tracking data. The commitment in the reopening plan to explore use of mobile data in enabling residents to make informed decisions provides additional reasoning for accelerating such activity. Responsive support form the LEP to promote and subsidise access to the online shopping development has remained in line with longer-term intentions but brought immediate solutions.
The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable):
This is ongoing work which contributes to programmes already supported by the Transforming Cities Fund and Future High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative in Selby town centre. Some of the reopening plan delivery is eligible for the Government’s Reopening High Streets Safely Fund. Both the long-term, revitalising Selby town centre action plan and the reopening plan identify necessary work where funds need to be raised. The District Council has demonstrated its commitment to this important work by allocating an internal budget that can be used as matched funding to encourage more creative information and messaging to be used.
How is the new approach being sustained?:
Alongside the action plan delivery themes and working groups, a fourth key strand to this work is partnership development and capacity building. This is the summary assessment for this aspect of the planning using the town centre checklist.
Theme 4 (connected activity): Partnership development for driving change through coordinated delivery and clear communications
Evidence & objectives: The outcomes-led revitalisation action plan is based on detailed survey of performance indicators including stakeholder perceptions with objectives, themes and vision created from understanding of needs. Additional, complementary, short-term outcomes defined as part of the reopening the town centre plan, strengthen this evidence-led approach. The checklist assessment identified a need to combine sets of indicators in an overall monitoring ‘dashboard’.
Lessons learned from the approach outlined in this case study will be shared as part of an updated case study as part of the ‘success stories’ section of the People & Places’ talk of the town web site and through a dedicated ‘talk of the town’ discussion group on LinkedIn.
Head of Community, Partnerships and Customers
Selby District Council
Links to relevant documents:
Supportive information about revitalising Selby town centre is available from dedicated pages of Selby District Council’s website.
A copy of the full self-assessment town centre checklist for Selby town centre recovery and revitalisation planning is available from the ‘free tasters’ section of the People & Places web site.