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Successful town centres: Developing effective strategies

Successful town centres: Developing effective strategies

Coca-Stefaniak, Andres ORCID: 0000-0001-5711-519X (2013) Successful town centres: Developing effective strategies. Technical Report. Association of Town and City Management, London, UK.

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The high street and the retail sector are facing a period of flux with tremendous pressures from local, national and global consumer trends, including rapid changes in the fiscal climate affecting local authorities. This situation has become particularly acute since the global economic downturn of 2008, which many see as the start of a significant long term global restructuring or the world’s economy.

Building on the findings of recent Government thinking, including the “Understanding high street performance” report by Genecon and the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published in 2012, this study argues for a fresh approach to the situation faced by the retail sector, the high street and, more generally, town centres across the country. Instead of a reactive approach to consumer trends, this report argues for a re-think of the strategic positioning of town centres to reclaim them to their rightful position and role as places that serve their communities, visitors, businesses and key stakeholders with a quality of experience that encourages them to keep coming back, staying longer and becoming local residents in due course.

In line with this, the achievement of prosperity for town centres is aligned here with their strategic aspirations, and ability to satisfy changing demands, which this report suggests includes a holistic approach to the integration and management of the daytime, evening and night time economies. These three segments of the 24-hr economy should be seen as part of one menu that town centres offer in an economy increasingly driven by customer experience and perceptions. To achieve this, key town centre decision makers - who should include the business community as well as local residents - need first to establish a vision for the future of their town centre that is anchored in the ‘personality’ or unique characteristics of their town, sometimes referred to as the ‘DNA’ of the place.

The aims of this study are to:

1. Present a set of tools that will help places of different sizes (from small market towns to large city centres and potentially also villages and rural locations) to plot a locally tailor-made strategic road map towards prosperity informed by their stakeholders.

2. Develop and present a state-of-the-art Town Centre Classification Matrix linked to a ‘personality’ test for town centres. This tool, which can be used for individual retailers and businesses as well as entire towns and tourist destinations, represents the first stage of strategic positioning and includes key elements of perceptions among visitors, residents and businesses.

3. Develop and present a new and clear national performance framework for town centres is presented. This framework is linked to the Town Centre Classification Matrix and allows places to evaluate their current situation and to monitor progress towards their strategic vision or objectives. This is achieved through a ground-breaking approach that effectively demystifies the concept of town centre performance indicators. Each indicator is explained in an approachable manner with data collection methodologies that include the possibility of using commercially available data or adopting a do-it-yourself method to field research locally.

4. Empower and support communities, Town Teams, Portas Pilots, local authority representatives, businesses operating in or near town centres, trader organisations, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), town centre managers, business improvement district managers, policy makers, town planners, charities, national retail associations, shopping centre managers, urban regeneration practitioners, tourism officers, consultancies and researchers.

5. Help locations and centres of all sizes to make key investment decisions adopting a strategic approach using decision support tools (including key performance indicators) that enable decision makers to prioritise and deal with local issues effectively.

Additionally, the indicators used in this study also support users who wish to do so in pursuing further market research avenues to gain a better understanding of their town centre and the complexity of interactions between different parameters. This includes the differences that may exist in some places between facts and perceptions (e.g. reported retail crime versus perceptions of crime and safety in the town centre). As in any change management context, it is vital to know the facts so that informed decisions can be taken to prioritise available resources effectively.

Based on the findings of this study, there follow ten key recommendations for further action from central government, LEPs, the retail sector and key local decision makers:

1. The role of retail and other businesses (e.g. leisure) in town centres should be revised to adopt a more holistic approach bringing the daytime, evening and night time economies under a common umbrella of strategic positioning and performance.

2. The national performance framework for town centres and Town Centre Classification Matrix presented here should be adopted nationally as part of a wider package to support ailing high streets and town centres.

3. A National Observatory for Town Centre Prosperity should be created for the UK, based on the Town Centre Performance Barometer Toolkit presented here. This national observatory should act as a common database of best practice and avoid simplistic benchmarking or league table approaches. Instead, it should focus on the sharing of innovative and entrepreneurial practices adopted by different town centres to achieve prosperity through inclusive and strategic partnership approaches at all levels.

4. A long term analysis of UK town centre prosperity trends should be carried out on the basis of field data collected using the performance criteria presented in this study. Whilst the indicator-based Town Centre Performance Barometer Toolkit is adequate for a first snap shot of the issues affecting different town centres today, it will only provide limited assistance to locations unless trends can be developed for each indicator through continuous use over a longer time frame.

5. The role of effective and genuine partnership-based place management as a key mechanism in the strategic visioning and delivery of prosperous town centres of all sizes should be recognised and supported by central and local government, urban regeneration professionals, LEPs and key local decision makers. This should apply not only to the operational management of town centres but, crucially, to key decisions affecting their development, including major interventions and regeneration projects with an impact on future growth prospects.

6. The effectiveness of current place management models (including Town Teams, Portas Pilots and Business Improvement Districts, among others) should be investigated further with due attention to place management practice overseas to establish more focused support interventions from the public and private sectors in achieving better results in each case without reinventing the wheel.

7. The impact of high performing town and city centres on neighbouring smaller centres should be investigated further, particularly by LEPs, taking a regional network and impact approach to avoid a polarisation of resources towards a (limited number of) high performing town or city centres or the squandering of resources on duplication in a small geographic area. Similarly, governance issues affecting LEPs and local councils in areas (including town centres) located on different local authority boundaries should be addressed as part of a wider framework.

8. The interactions between town centre performance parameters and their cause-effect relationships should be researched further as there is currently a limited level of evidence and understanding of these beyond relatively simple one-to-one (and not one-to-many) relationships.

9. A better understanding of consumer behaviour within the town centre ecosystem needs to be achieved at both macro and micro level in order to better support long-term decision making for their effective strategic positioning. This study offers a first step towards this by highlighting the importance of visitor perceptions but does not address the deeper and more complex mechanisms that govern the development of these perceptions.

10. The national observatory recommended above should develop further the indicator-based toolkit presented here to create indices linked to a weighting system for individual indicators derived from an extensive nation-wide field research programme on town centre prosperity.

Item Type: Monograph (Technical Report)
Additional Information: © Crown copyright 2013.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Town centres, place management, town centre competitiveness, high streets, retail, town centre management, town centre performance, competitive positioning, urban revitalisation, urban planning, place branding, city branding, destination management, destination competitiveness, destination marketing, destination branding, urban regeneration
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business > Department of Marketing, Events & Tourism
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:37

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