Partnerships and governance
Establishing, developing and reviewing partnerships and governance
How do we initiate a forum representing businesses and stakeholders?
Check first that no relevant groups exist who are already working on this in your high street. The Task Force is developing a place capacity map to identify locations with town centre funding and partnerships but this is still having data added, so explore the local authority, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce or Trade websites for information on town centres. Search under <town name> Business Improvement District and <town name> Partnership. Search also on social media using the town name to find any local groups who are supporting or commenting on the town, such as heritage bodies, civic societies, youth groups. If you find anything, the next step is to contact them, identify what they are doing and how you might work together.
If this produces no result, you may want to arrange a discussion session to review the town centre, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We know of events like this led by the local authority or a town council where a room in the town is arranged, usually in an early evening, and people are invited by notices in shop windows announcing the event, through use of social media and articles in local press. The purpose of these events is to give people a chance to share ideas, raise concerns but to agree on some actions that can be taken. It is best to have someone to set the scene at the start, talk about any plans that exist, but also to share information on what is happening to high streets. If you know of another town nearby where change is happening, it could be worth inviting whoever is leading on that to speak.
We have existing neighbourhood plans and partnerships. Are they still relevant after COVID?
We are obviously not through COVID yet so we don’t know really know what the impact will be for town centres in the medium or longer term, but the emerging evidence seems to be that it will be considerable. We don’t know whether changes to consumer behaviour now signal a permanent change or the extent of that change. Has the rapid growth in online shopping during lockdown established a new baseline, permanently taking that spend from town centres? Will office-based workers return in large or smaller numbers? Will pedestrian priority being introduced for social distancing herald a permanent rethinking of town centres?
Existing plans may not be wrong. It may be that COVID accelerates opportunities for things to happen as we have seen with street works in cities across Europe. But some things we took for granted may now be very different. We recommend that all plans should now be reviewed. We have two frameworks to inform your reviews. The COVID-19 Recovery Framework is still relevant as town and city centres reopen and users return. Footfall is still well down in most places and the time spent in centres has also fallen. The Recovery Framework identifies actions for this period.
The second framework of relevance is the Route Map to Transformation. This has been developed to support town and city centres to address both the existing challenges to the high street as well as those arising from COVID. Town centres of the future need to be much more diversified in their offer and be more inclusive in their appeal. The Route Map is an adaptable tool that you can use locally. It has four key requirements: the need to put in place effective place leadership and governance, with refreshed and inclusive partnerships; the development of a long term collaborative vision that builds on the unique strengths of your town and reflects its opportunities, supported by detailed strategies for implementation; a clear identity for the town or city centre that draws on its history, role, and future direction that identifies what makes it special and what is valued, that can be shared and communicated in different ways; to plan for the diversification of uses and variety of offer in the town centre so it better meets the needs of the whole community whilst ensuring regular actions and initiatives to keep the offer fresh and to animate the centre.
Should Town Councils be involved in town centre partnerships?
We know of many examples where Town Councils play an active role. The nature of the role may vary depending on the resources they have available but their familiarity with the town means they can identify issues that need to be addressed, involve local partnerships and community groups, and often support initial actions with some funding or time. They may have space where meetings can happen.
Congleton Town Council promote events in the town, provide effective town centre management, maintain the streetscape, support Congleton in Bloom, and support a wider partnership that undertakes local infrastructure projects. Shrewsbury Town Council run the award-winning Market Hall and are active partners with Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury BID in the development of the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan.
However, effective partnerships should be made up of those who want to play a positive role and make change happen. Having organisations involved because of who they are rather than what they want to do is not the best approach.
How would you define place leadership?
Town and city centres are complex and contested places. The multiplicity of ownership, the multifunctionality of activity, their connections to other places, plus how they are impacted by global and macro factors entirely outside local control means that place leadership is unlike other forms of leadership.
Effective place leadership is an important prerequisite for developing a vision and strategy for the high street . A town’s vision and strategy need to be constantly revisited and redefined by all stakeholders involved, highlighting the importance of continuous dialogue and cooperation during the process. Maintaining a shared vision and strategy for managing the high street entails strategic local ‘politicking’ -the co-creation of an appealing narrative about the place through dialogue and cooperation, which will drive forward further interactions among stakeholders. Extensive dialogues, discussions and consultations with local communities are required to refine the vision and strategy, which requires effective leadership and communication from place leaders and champions.
In some places with records of success, place leadership has “has transcended from the actions of individual leaders, organisations or sectors to a series of more collaborative movements, in other words, partnerships. The partnerships focus on the actual work of doing leadership, rather than sticking to an outdated, top-down hierarchical structure that just administrates place.” (High Street 2030: Achieving Change p12)
Place leadership is not necessarily just to be found in local authorities. It needs to be a wider responsibility involving the community, business interests, property owners, investors and others. Like other commentators, Bill Grimsey emphasises the importance of place leadership, noting that such leaders should have “a broad range of dynamic and collaborative skills in order to get the best out of their communities. They must embrace change in order to build back better.”