Town centre futures: Evidence and ideas for recovery

This research, delivered by Centre for London, provides practical recommendations for how London’s Centres can work together to deliver short, medium and long term futures that are economically, environmentally and socially successful.

Date added 13 April 2021
Last updated 15 April 2021

This report was commissioned by the Cross River Partnership (CRP) to enable its members and partners to think through and respond to the potential impact of the coronavirus on London. It is split into three separate sections, each offering different resources, which includes a thematic evidence review, a series of case studies and a number of policy recommendations to adapt to the lasting shock of the pandemic.

The thematic review begins by considering how we can plan our town centres to improve our health and wellbeing, and to make them adaptable in periods of rapid economic and social change. It highlights that the future prosperity of town centres will be dependent on factors other than retail and that high streets should be understood and championed as places of meaning and connection, where people live, play and work, as well as shop.

It continues by stating that the pandemic has impacted different parts of London in different ways and stresses that strong partnerships and shared visions will be essential to secure future economic success, focusing on how Community Asset Transfers (CATs) have worked in places such as South Norwood and Tottenham to generate and retain long-term social value by empowering communities to drive their own high streets forward.

The review then goes on to examine the pandemic in more detail, focusing on how it has caused footfall to shift from London’s core to its town centre suburbs, an effect described as creating a “doughnut city”. High streets have become focal areas for food shopping and essential services, independent businesses have been able to take advantage of an increase in deliveries and takeaways, and local outdoor markets have thrived as people are more likely to stay in their areas and are forced to be or prefer to be outdoors.

Themes such as active travel, Brexit and automation are then explored, before a series of case studies focusing on London’s town centres are highlighted to examine opportunities for growth, potential for risks and how they have adapted their vision through the creation of a Covid-19 recovery plan. The case studies include Burnt Oak in Barnet, Nine Elms in Wandsworth, Upper Street in Islington and Harrow Road in Kensington. 

The report concludes by providing a list of 11 recommendations to act as practical steps for local authorities, Business Improvement Districts, the Greater London Authority and their partners to take in order to improve London's town centres in 2021 and beyond. It admits that not all the ideas will work in all places, and different areas may choose one or several in combination, depending on what has already happened and what the local priorities are.

These recommendations include a commitment to; support London’s creatives with outdoor performances and visual art displays, create new workspaces that suit the needs of remote workers and make roads healthier and more child friendly by introducing designs that facilitate active travel and reduce access for vehicle uses that contribute to air pollution. The report also recommends transferring assets to community ownership, in order to empower local people and deliver bottom-up change.

The report stresses that collaboration between groups – and in particular between the public and private sectors – is essential for these recommendations to have the most impact. 

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