Town centre partnerships

This report written by the Urban and Economic Development Group (URBED) for the ATCM, though published in 1997, still holds relevance for enhancing collaboration and partnership working in town centres. Based on seminars, surveys with local authorities, and over 40 case studies from around the world, the report outlines what town centre management is and its importance; how to create effective partnerships; and how to collaboratively monitor evidence and data around any initiatives put in place.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This report written by URBED for the ATCM, though published in 1997, still holds relevance for enhancing collaboration and partnership working in high streets and town centres. As the authors argue, “There is often an argument over who should take the lead in improving town centres, and consequently a tendency to ‘pass the buck’”; yet, “...collective action has always been important, and the roots of most towns go back to market charters, the growth of guilds of merchants, and the use of regulations to raise standards” (p. 15). Indeed, boosting local authority capacity is one of the core objectives of the High Streets Task Force. Based on action research seminars, surveys with English, Welsh, and Scottish local authorities, and over 40 town centre case studies from around the world, the research project on which the report is based sought to answer three key questions:

  • What roles and functions should town centre management seek to undertake?
  • How should a partnership be constituted and held accountable to members or sponsors?
  • What level of resourcing is needed and where should funds come from?

Findings from the project are structured in several main sections, so that busy readers can select the ones of most relevance to them, summarised as follows:

1. Facing the challenges

  • Towns require effective place management to deal with threats, such as losing key attractions and store vacancies.
  • Taking concerted effort to improve town centres can reap significant rewards, both economic, social, and environmental.
  • The town management approach required will differ depending on whether it is a small, medium, or large sized town.

2. Managing town centres

  • It is important for local authorities to build partnerships with the local community.
  • A key task for town centre management is to ensure a concerted focus is given to improving the centre, by bringing together a range of stakeholders.
  • A shared vision can help to bring partners together.

3. Organising for Action

  • Successful partnerships are characterised by their membership, mission, money, management, and measurable results.
  • Effective partnerships can bring benefits such as greater continuity, confidence, communications, commitment, and capacity.
  • Partnerships can evolve over time in stages, from initial local concerns from individuals, to more collaborative management between the local authority and retailers, to town centre partnership working, involving trust between a range of partners.

4. Monitoring Results

  • A key issue in attracting funding is how to demonstrate benefits or value added of any initiatives undertaken.
  • Data and evidence is vital for assessing town centre health, and monitoring the impact of any interventions and initiatives.
  • Place managers should circulate data on key benchmark indicators to other stakeholders, such as footfall and vacancy levels.