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Form: governance and influence

Turning around a town or city centre is a complex and long-term venture and experience shows that it requires resources and leadership and should not be left to chance. The COVID-19 crisis has created new and broader ways of working in partnerships across town and city centres that it will be important to build on.

Many local authorities have used their leadership role in enabling and providing long-term support for town centre revitalisation including through capacity building, start-up funding and creating authority-wide links. Councils should carefully consider their roles in supporting and sustaining viable partnerships from the outset, or otherwise they risk being set-up to fail.

Form following function

The form of an organisation refers to its set-up, structure, governance, partnerships and legal status. The form of a partnership should follow its function.  Key determinants of this organisational form for councils to consider in supporting partnerships will include: the balance sought between being a consultative partner or can-do delivery body; available financial support and the need for independent fund raising; and close alignment with council policy verses the capacity to reach-out, engage with and empower sectors of the community.

Evolving organisations

There are many variations of the organisational models available for leading town centre revitalisation and how councils can support these. Councils need to consider the type of partnership that that they will have confidence in to best offer joint working and added value without later leading to strained relationships. The appropriate organisational form is also likely to evolve over time and two organisations can work side-by-side with clearly defined roles.

Different options for organisational form include: council-led partnerships which coordinate activity and often inform policy; business-led town teams which can be very “can-do” and have a marketing focus; neighbourhood planning groups which can help shape future growth and its impact on town centre; development trusts which are very adept in managing community property; and BIDs which combine financial independence and business leadership.

The review of below of the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to partnership development is taken from a case study of creating talented town teams in Pembrokeshire prepared by the People & Places Partnership.




Council-led partnership

Close connection to other council departments; budget provided

Vulnerable to council budgetary pressures; can be difficult to fully engage with community & businesses

Council-coordinated partnership

Good connections to council departments; brings stakeholders together if clear purpose and/or delegated budget

Vulnerable to changing priorities; can create imbalance between action & strategic influence if role unclear

Town centre manager & forum

Partly arms-length though probable budget contribution from council

Vulnerable to cuts; important to get balance between strategic influence and engaging with business & community

Town council hosted partnership

Close local links; arms-length though conduit between authorities; modest budget contribution and ability to  access some external funds

The ‘can do’ attitude can be stifled if too formal; can be difficult to fully engage with businesses without suitable sub-group of link to Chamber of Trade, for example

Business-led town team

Business-like approach & understanding of economic issues and collective marketing

No assured funding stream; can have narrow business  focus & lack strategic influence

Neighbourhood Plan group

Considers wider economic and community planning; exerts long-term influence

Long-term and strategic process; can lack tangible, short-term impacts or town centre focus

Development trust

Capital asset base generates revenue income; strong community focus

Requires available property and large capital investment; can have narrow focus & lack strategic influence

Business Improvement District

Income stream from rates levy; strong business focus and contacts

Can have narrow business focus & lack strategic influence if not part of wider strategy alongside council

Public-private partnership

Combine council and commercial expertise and investment with strong development focus to deliver key sites

Likely to have a narrow, site-based focus and limited life though should sit within wider strategy

Re-inventing public-private partnerships

Advice on unlocking growth through partnership from the LGA and British Property Federation proposes innovative means of driving forward local growth by encouraging local authorities to foster stronger public-private sector partnerships.

Such public-private partnerships focus on delivering development of key sites and should fit within a wider town or city centre strategy. Examples in the report show local authorities across the country innovating and adopting a more commercial mindset, including deriving income through ownership of shopping centres; promoting mixed-use schemes; partnering with the private sector on joint venture urban regeneration projects; or using government-led initiatives such as One Public Estate.

The report identified best practice in deriving growth through partnership by:

  • Creating political certainty:  investors will look to local areas where there is cross-party consensus on a framework for attracting and supporting investment.
  • Ensuring a convincing and realistic vision:  a clear and frank assessment of an area’s strengths and weaknesses helps convince investors of a local authority’s vision for development.
  • Using land assembly tools at their disposal: understanding how public sector land holdings or strategic sites could be brought together is key.
  • Developing commercial mindsets:  understanding the commercial realities and opportunities of an area will help local authorities become less dependent on government funding and the uncertainties that come with this.
  • Showing a commitment to improving infrastructure: a pipeline of relevant and achievable infrastructure improvements should be developed and communicated to investors.

The joint LGA, Planning Advisory Service and House Builders Federation report on planning positively through partnership extends the advice on good practice in public and private cooperation to include early engagement through the panning system. Both reports cite Southampton as a an example of good practice in public-private partnerships to plan and deliver key city centre developments.


Influencing through story telling

This is a period of necessary reaction, experimentation, learning and the creation of new good practice. The IPM Recovery Framework advocates that an effective way of influencing decision-makers and partnerships to adopt new ways of working, is through the telling stories. Collating stories about how places across the United Kingdom and internationally are recovering, will be crucial in town and city centres learning from each other to adopt suitable new approaches for COVID-19 recovery and beyond. New case studies within this toolkit, are part of this learning.

Councils and town partnerships should capture and create online content to enable the wider dissemination of case studies between towns to illustrate adaptable solutions for decision-makers and stakeholders.

Case studies

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has worked with the town’s Business Improvement District to improve public spaces, reduce anti-social behaviour and run events marketing and social media campaigns that are changing town centre performance and challenging perceptions.

Pembrokeshire County Council has successfully used the F-Factors model to review its relationship, future governance, influence, impacts and ongoing support needs for its county-wide, town centre revitalisation programme.