Town and City Centre Regeneration: Opportunities and Challenges, 12 May 2021

The LGA hosted a roundtable on the opportunities and challenges of town and city centre regeneration


Introduction

The purpose of this roundtable was to provide high level thinking from councils around the opportunities for town and city centres as well as the role of councils in facilitating this.

The roundtable was chaired by David Fletcher, Director of City Development and Growth at Derby City Council. A scene setting presentation was delivered by Chris Shephard, Director of Development at Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) Council. This was followed by a discussion with attendees at the roundtable.

BCP presentation summary

BCP council is planning several mixed usage regeneration schemes in a number of town centres across the region.

The council has utilised different income streams to fund these projects through a mixture of government funding, investment from LEPs and by creating a local asset backed vehicle. They have created a £50 million futures fund designed for their infrastructure and capital projects. They have also created an urban regeneration company to deliver these projects.

Some of the examples that were shared about the council’s regeneration plans are included below:

  • Lansdowne – funding was secured through the LEP with a view to bringing universities, businesses, and creative sectors into the town and to develop it into a place to live, work, study and enjoy.
  • Boscombe – funding was secured through the towns fund and there are plans to deliver a mixture of residential and retail spaces, health care hubs etc.

The council is also looking at developing their infrastructure and green spaces. They have plans to develop smart cities and have invested in a 5G network to improve connectivity. They are also developing a strategy for their green spaces through the Future Parks Accelerator funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a view to improving the council’s parks over the long term.

The examples presented by BCP are referenced throughout this summary.

The key findings from the discussion

Colleagues at the roundtable highlighted the points below as being some of the key opportunities and challenges regarding their regeneration plans:

  • There is a demand for a business model that offers a mixed usage including retail, housing, office space. However, there needs to be a balance between long term regeneration projects with longer lead in times and delivery timeframes and short-term measures to bring life back into urban centres.
  • Councils are increasingly assessing how to deliver regeneration plans against their sustainability agenda. There are challenges and opportunities such as businesses still wishing to have access to car parking spaces in centres.
  • Securing government funding within short timescales can be resource intensive and challenging. Creating local partnerships can support councils in the bidding process but councils should also look for alternative funding options (alternatives to Central Government). 
  • Place based partnerships could be created to broaden participation in governance and plans for town and city centre regeneration.
  • Using data could be useful in developing regeneration plans.

These points are expanded below.

There is a demand for a business model that offers a mixed usage including retail, housing, office space. However, there needs to be a balance between long term regeneration projects with longer lead in times and delivery timeframcs, and short-term measures to bring life back into urban centres

A theme at the roundtable was that councils are increasingly looking to incorporate mixed usage spaces that are residential, family friendly, and incorporate green spaces as well as office and leisure spaces. However, a key point was made that these plans can take years to deliver. It is important to attract footfall into urban centres in the short term whilst delivering against long term regeneration plans. It was suggested that there is an opportunity to deliver short term regeneration plans by utilising empty shop spaces.

Some colleagues found that there has been a demand from businesses to return to the urban centres. Empty shops and other vacant buildings can be repurposed to meet this demand. Some colleagues also shared that there has been a demand for more family friendly activities in the centres and examples were also shared of empty spaces that are offering arts and crafts activities.

A key point was made however, that the model needs to be financially sustainable. Therefore, a mix which taps into demand from businesses and creates shops and retailers coupled with more family friendly activities could create a  mixed usage space through a more financially sustainable model.

Councils are increasingly assessing how to deliver regeneration plans against their sustainability agenda. There are challenges and opportunities such as businesses still wishing to have access to car parking spaces in centres.

It was suggested that there are opportunities to utilise car park spaces for developments. Examples were shared of planned development sites on car park spaces that are being delivered in Bournemouth. The council has partnered with Morgan Sindall to deliver developments through a local asset backed vehicle.

Whilst reducing car park spaces would be advantageous in reducing emissions and delivering against the sustainability agenda, it was recognised that this presents a challenge in attracting visitors to city centres. A challenge is also presented by businesses wishing to have access to car park spaces. This presents a question regarding how to offer new car parking spaces as part of any new developments, and whether to reduce the capacity of car park spaces and encourage increased usage of e scooters and bikes. Examples were shared of successful e scooter trials in some councils. Information regarding the trial in Somerset West and Taunton is available below:

E scooter trial in Somerset West and Taunton

It was also suggested that government funding such as Transforming Cities Fund could also help connect cities and towns and create sustainable travel options which could help reduce car usage. Regeneration plans may need to consider new road layouts which deprioritise cars and increase cycling and pedestrian lanes. Businesses should also be included in the conversations to encourage employees to use alternative transportation methods.

Securing government funding within short timescales can be resource intensive and challenging. Creating local partnerships can support councils in the bidding process but councils should also look for alternative funding options (alternatives to Central Govt).

Securing funding for regeneration schemes is a challenge for councils despite the funding pots available through the Towns Fund and Levelling Up fund. Smaller rural councils in particular are struggling to submit substantial funding bids within the timescales particularly as these processes can be time and resource intensive. It was suggested that working in parship between the public sector and businesses can support the funding process. An example was shared at a county council where a network has been formed which includes up to 40 businesses and local partners which have a high-level oversight into the council’s levelling up fund bid. The purpose is to present to government that there is a local appetite for the funding and to therefore substantiate the bidding process through input from various channels.

However, it was also highlighted that councils should take ownership of securing funds through alternative avenues. The creation of the Bournemouth development company helped the council secure funding for their development sites through their partnership with Morgan Sindall who were able to fund the projects whilst the council created the developments.

Place based partnerships could be created to broaden participation in governance and plans for town and city centre regeneration.

The question of multi sector steering groups and partnerships was also a key point that was raised at the roundtable. It was suggested that key stakeholders from a number of sectors should be included in development plans of city centres and regeneration plans. An example was shared of one council that is planning to establish a city centre programme board to involve key stakeholders and give them more of a role in the city centre. These include the LEP, Homes England, the Arts Council, universities etc. This partnership approach could steer the direction of the city centre and steer input into investment in green spaces, health centres, travel and leisure and residential buildings to offer a dynamic mixed usage within the centres. The challenge with this suggestion is that businesses may not engage in the governance aspect of it. In BCP, a Brains Trust idea was developed instead which included a number of key business figures. This could be beneficial in terms of creating a more informal placed based partnership to shape the direction of regeneration plans.

Using data could be useful in developing regeneration plans.

Some councils are looking at using data as to inform interventions and regeneration plans. It was suggested that it may be useful to use modelling data which shows which part of the centre generates the most footfall as well as what modes of transportation people use to access the centres as this may encourage businesses to review how their employees can travel into their offices and perhaps discourage travelling by car.

In BCP, they have varied out visitors’ surveys to understand which parts of the centre attract footfall. They have also created a Microsoft BI dashboard which pulls nationwide data. This combined with their local data has been useful in terms of using data to support decision making.

LGA support offer and additional resources

The LGA has released guidance for councils to deal with empty shops. This guidance is for councils faced with challenges around vacancies on their high streets and in their town centres and provides an overview of potential methods to tackle it:

The LGA will be hosting more roundtables as part of our Economic Growth Support offer. For more information on all of our upcoming events and publications on Economic Growth please visit the Economic Growth Support Hub webpage.

If you would like any more information about the LGA’s economic growth support offer, please email productivity@local.gov.uk.