Successful town centres: developing effective strategies

High streets and town centres have long been subject to a range of societal issues, such as the 2008 economic downturn, changes in consumer behaviour, local authority budget cuts, and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. This 2013 report focuses on what makes a successful town centre, in the backdrop of such ongoing challenges. It offers practical advice and toolkits around identifying town centre 'personality’ types and measuring town centre performance levels, alongside town centre case studies.

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*

This report provides a set of practical toolkits and advice around successful town centres, which aims to support anyone with an active interest in improving the experience and vitality of town centres. Key aims of the report and underpinning study are to (p. 5):

  1. Present a set of tools that will help places of different sizes.
  2. Develop and present a state-of-the-art Town Centre Classification Matrix linked to a 'personality’ test for town centres.
  3. Develop and present a new and clear national performance framework for town centres.
  4. Empower and support communities.
  5. Help locations and centres of all sizes to make key investment decisions.

The report first outlines some of the key challenges town centres and high streets are facing, along with illustrative charts and statistics. Next, the differences between town centres and high streets are discussed, in relation to the traditional retail-focused 'hierarchy of centre types’. The report then critiques existing ideas around measuring town centre performance for putting forwards a mono-functional retail-focused view of the high street, and for often being skewed in favour of the daytime economy.

The report, therefore, suggests that town centre 'personality types’ - or the unique identity and character of a place - be identified and considered as key elements in attaining sustainable advantage in the face of globalising trends and homogenisation of places. Four town centre personality types are outlined in the report and a personality ‘test’ is also provided for centres to adopt in practice. Although, as the report cautions, centres may straddle multiple personality types, or change between them over time and seasons.

Town centre personality types

Case studies of Deptford, Cheltenham, Skipton, and Liverpool are provided

1. Community-focused entrepreneurs

- Clear focus on needs of diverse local community.

- Local community may have a more modest expendable income.

- Typically a high number of independent traders, and good community spirit.

Examples include: Deptford, Brick Lane, and Coleford.

2. Sustainable destinations

- May be linked to a University with an international reputation.

- Have the power to attract people from across the UK and internationally.

- Increasingly mindful of strategic sustainability issues.

Examples include: York, Cheltenham, and Oxford.

3. Specialists

- Known for retail sophistication and specialist independent retailers.

- Tend to have a strong local character.

- Often not seen as international tourism destinations.

 Examples include: Padstow, Norwich, and Skipton.

 4. Global celebrities

- Globally recognised centres.

- Big retail brands are key anchors.

- Ability to attract visitors nationally and internationally.

Examples include: Oxford Street (London), Princess Street (Edinburgh), and Liverpool City Centre.

The report concludes by offering a town centre indicator-based performance toolkit that places can use to measure the performance levels of town centres. The toolkit revolves around four aspects - 'people and footfall’, 'diversity and vitality of place’, 'consumer and business perceptions’, and 'economic characteristics’ – and has been summarised in this related High Streets Task Force resource.