Functionality - 25 'vital and viable' priorities

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. This resource introduces the 'functionality' priority - why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

What are the 25 vital and viable priorities?

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability.

The framework was created by experts from a range of disciplines and other stakeholders to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge and broadening real-world understanding of the changing nature of the high street.

The 25 priorities are practically orientated and, given their ability to be controlled or influenced at a town level, are fairly internally focussed. For each of the priorities you will find an introduction to evidence that describes the priority, suggests what it covers, discusses how it might be implemented and the level of control associated with it.

Additionally, you will find suggestions of what the priority could mean for implementation during the COVID-19 recovery stage.


Factors included in Functionality

Single factor: the degree to which a centre fulfils a role (e.g. employment, residential, entertainment, tourism, etc.)







24th out of 25

3.52 out of 5



15th out of 25

3.33 out of 4

Potentially controllable

25 Priorities

23th out of 25


High priority



Functionality refers to the various purposes that towns serve. For example, as a service centre, employment centre, residential centre, tourist centre, etc. In some locations certain functions dominate but others have more of a multifunctional economy. Research has demonstrated that understanding these functions is important before visions, strategies and other interventions are planned.




Why does it matter? (Influence)

A centre that has many functions brings economic benefits, as this attracts visitors and people who spend time and money for multiple reasons; tourism, leisure purposes, working in the area, and living there. Ultimately, this type of centre maintains the image of the town centre as the centre of the community. Centres that are visited for many reasons and do not rely on a particular activity are more resilient to change. For example, a town centre that heavily relies on retail to survive can suffer the consequences of online shopping to a greater extent, than a centre that also thrives because of its entertainment offer. Getting the balance right is important so that growth in one regard does not end with the town’s capacity to deal with change. Housing growth can support local services and employment, but high rates of development can risk the core functions of a centre (e.g. entertainment, retail, etc.) as the efforts needed for growth in relation to housing can compromise business growth, open space, experiences, that are necessary for vitality and viability (Powe & Hart, 2008).

What can you do about it? (Control)

Town centres need to consider to what extent they still provide their traditional functions and how new functions are developing. This analysis can provide a basis from which to begin to explore the challenges they face and reinvent themselves (Powe & Hart, 2008). Data is key to understand town centre functionality. Footfall for example, can be used to measure attractiveness of a location and whether or not it satisfies the needs of visitors and residents. It also allows to understand centre performance by looking at daily, weekly, and yearly patterns of visitor behaviours, and can reveal gaps in terms of consumer experience (Mumford et al. 2020). Looking at types of attractions or anchors (i.e. museums, sport centre, supermarket) that drive visitors is another necessary reflection, to understand which of these are driving visitors and to what end a centre function (Clopton and Finch, 2011). A centre with many functions or attractions can boost communities and town centre performance (Hubbard, 2019). Town centres need to work toward achieving functionality ‘for all’, maintaining a balance between retail, employment, housing, but also providing for less well-off or less able residents.

In terms of dealing with change, local capacity and governance are as important as financial resources. Enhancing local capacity can be central to achieving development towards a functional centre. Local partnerships need to be put in place in order to develop ‘action plans’ that are owned by the community. Successful interventions will depend on local capacity, skills, and resource, so there needs to be a plan to attract these (e.g. young people, creative industries, etc.) (Caffyn, 2004). Place managers must ensure that the different functionalities and attractions are recognised by all the stakeholders in the town, i.e. local businesses, residents, etc. (Powe & Hart 2008).

Functionality and COVID-19

Functions are more diverse and local economies do not rely on particular sectors to survive, making them more resilient to change. In the recovery phase, temporary changes to the core function may become permanent, the core function may revert, or it may change altogether (e.g. from comparison shopping to service centre). Monitoring the shift through analysis of footfall, spend and vacancy data will enable place managers to adapt delivery to meet new demands. Where change is projected to be temporary, place managers should work to restore the function. For example, for seaside resorts suffering from a lack of domestic visitors, the recovery phase sees the launch of fresh marketing campaigns, events and renewed destination management activity. In office centres, place managers can help by engaging in employment brokerage activity and loyalty schemes which reconnect office workers with local hospitality businesses. In residential areas, place managers can help by surveying local demands and working to supply them.

See also

Anchors, Activity, Retail offer, Non-retail offer, Adaptability, Redevelopment plans


Caffyn, A. (2004). Market town regeneration; challenges for policy and implementation', Local

Economy, 19, pp. 8-24.


Clopton, AW. & Finch, BL. (2011). Re-conceptualizing social anchors in community development: Utilizing social anchor theory to create social capital’s third dimension. Community Development, 42(1), pp. 70–83.


Hubbard, P. (2019). Enthusiasm, craft and authenticity on the High Street: micropubs as ‘community fixers’. Social and Cultural Geography 20(6), pp. 763–784.


Mumford, C., Parker, C., Ntounis, N., & Dargan, E. (2020). Footfall signatures and volumes: Towards a classification of UK centres. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science.


Powe, N., & Hart, T. (2008). Market towns: understanding and maintaining functionality. Town Planning Review, 79(4), pp. 347-370.