Dealing with empty shops: Basildon Council

Basildon Council have formally adopted a Town Centre Regeneration Strategy which sets out plans for the future of the new town’s retail core.


Introduction

Basildon Council have formally adopted a Town Centre Regeneration Strategy which sets out plans for the future of the new town’s retail core. The strategy was produced following the establishment of an evidence base that detailed the town’s retail offer, its under provision of alternative uses such as leisure, and the resulting high numbers of empty shops in the town centre.

Proposed image of high street in Basildon


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The challenge

Basildon’s town centre is the major retail centre in the borough, comprising 1.15m sqft of retail space. It is a busy and well used town centre, with an important social function. However, Basildon has a high vacancy rate of nearly 19% and it is recognised that there is currently an over-provision of retail space and an under-provision of other uses such as leisure and food and drink to bring diversity to the town centre. Equally, there is very little existing residential accommodation within the town centre itself, and the retail core is disconnected from surrounding neighbourhoods by a dominant road network.

Of particular concern regarding the vitality of the town centre is the recent (2018) losses of both Marks & Spencer and the liquidation of the Toys ‘R’ Us business. Local  agents indicating that losing key anchor tenant companies  along with the general decline of the town environment has reduced the footfall in the town centre shopping areas, and subsequently the appeal of the town centre to prospective renters.


The solution

The Basildon Town Centre Regeneration Strategy was formally adopted in September 2020. The strategy provides a strategic direction to those developing proposals, ahead of a formal planning documents being approved in the future. This structure allowed the authority to set out its visions and  ambitions rapidly and in an agile way, ahead of the adoption of the emerging Local Plan and Supplementary Planning Document timescales.

The key ambition of the strategy is to cluster future retail uses in the town centre core, following the establishment of a robust evidence base. It sets out ambitions to tackle vacancy by reducing retail floorspace by a net figure of 20,000sqm.

A key ambition of the strategy is to contribute to the vision of the centre ‘growing to become the beating heart of South Essex’. This will be achieved through the introduction of new housing and by promoting a mix of town-centre uses including retail, leisure, culture, community and workspace. Together, these uses will support an active and vibrant place to live, work and visit, and will encourage an evening economy whilst protecting and strengthening the core retail areas of the town centre. This is supported by direct council delivery of a new cinema complex at the core of the town centre.


The impact

The consolidation of the retail core gives the opportunity to look positively at redefining the town centre. Some of the vacant sites provide opportunities for positive change, as well as significant residential capacity. A key impact of the Regeneration Strategy process has been to positively engage with landowners and developers to encourage inward investment into the town. Several significant sites within the town centre are subject to active planning applications or pre-applications, galvanised by the promotion and activity associated with the Regeneration Strategy.