Retailing, sustainability and neighbourhood regeneration

During Covid-19, we have witnessed the rediscovery of local high streets. This 2001 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, focuses on this theme of local centres, and their role in creating sustainable neighbourhoods. Based on 14 case studies across Britain, this report outlines the key trends influencing local shopping, successful initiatives for retail and high street regeneration, and common challenges in less successful attempts for revitalisation.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

*This resource is more than 5 years old but has been included as it contains information that is still relevant and useful*

During Covid-19, we have witnessed the rediscovery of local high streets, as people tended to stay closer to home due to pandemic restrictions. This 2001 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, focuses on this theme of local centres, and their role in creating sustainable neighbourhoods. As the authors explain, "local shopping centres, with their community facilities, libraries, surgeries and pubs are at the social and physical heart of neighbourhoods" (p. v), and are of vital importance to local residents, especially those unable to travel further afield to meet their basic produce and service needs. However, as the authors outline, there are a range of environmental and social trends influencing the vitality and viability of local shopping, such as car usage, climate change, and retail trends.

The report draws on a project into "the potential for retail revitalisation schemes to contribute to social inclusion and local sustainability development" (p.3). It is based on 14 case study locations across Britain, which were selected due to their focus on a range of different retail regeneration challenges. The research included desk research; site visits; stakeholder interviews and focus groups. Each case study presented includes both 'points of inspiration’ other centres could learn from, in addition to 'constraints on regeneration’ they have faced.

Some key case study findings are summarised below.

Successful initiatives features

The report highlights several features shared across the case studies, as to where retail revitalisation initiatives have been successful:

  • Attention to retail marketplace and local catchment.
  • Clear place leadership.
  • Involving local residents.
  • Clear local vision.
  • Use of available investment.
  • Community facilities and creation of a destination.

Common challenges faced

The report further identifies several challenges shared across the case studies, as to where retail revitalisation initiatives have been less successful:

  • Short-term aspirations dominate development planning.
  • There is a lack of shared vision and strategy, without consensus over future aspirations.
  • There is a failure to work towards economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Some key recommendations   

The report also offers some key recommendations for achieving more strategic approaches to retail revitalisation:

  • Creation of national and regional planning guidance to foster strategic retail planning.
  • Local authority development plans to be created, including retail analysis and future-facing strategies.
  • Neighbourhood retail strategies to be formed through encompassing residents’ social and environmental aspirations.
  • A retail enhancement officer could be deployed in authorities concerned about retailing quality, who has expertise in this area.
  • Local involvement in retail revitalisation is important, and could be fostered within the context of a Community Planning Framework.

Some more specific issues are also discussed in the report, such as whether to restore, or demolish and rebuild existing high street buildings and facilities? How to phase regeneration activities? What is the role of community, health and social facilities in creating vibrant high streets? And, what is the environmental impact of high street development activities?