By Daniel Hunter

Local authorities are being encouraged to adopt the role of the guardian of high streets and town centres in a new report Hope for the High Street from KPMG.

Presented as a discussion document, KPMG’s report outlines the challenges facing the UK’s town centres and actions required by their stakeholders in order to deliver change. It also considers the factors behind the varying degrees of ability and willingness of local authorities to take the lead in re-thinking planning policy and town centre management.

KPMG’s report states the British High Street merits a fundamental re-think, in order to remain relevant to modern lifestyles.

“People live differently today, compared with even 20 years ago. We have smaller homes, spend a greater proportion of our budgets on food and drink outside of the home and spend significant time online, even when on the move. Many town centres face difficulties because they haven’t evolved alongside their communities," One of its authors, Ms Kru Desai, KPMG’s head of local government, said.

“The good news is that there remains a strong demand for collective urban spaces where people can spend time meeting, communicating, eating, drinking and working. But, in their current formats — the way they look, the mix of uses, the functions they offer and the ways in which they are managed — many of our town centres are no longer fit for purpose.”

According to the report the High Street represents an intersection of the interests of four key types of stakeholder - property owners, property occupiers, the local authority (sometimes more than one) and the wider local community.

It suggests that different interests have contributed to High Streets failing to keep pace with societal needs and argues that each must play a part in planning and delivering change, creating a new shared vision for the way a town centre looks and works.

This gives some local government bodies a real cultural and operational challenge, notes Kru Desai: “Despite being publicly accountable for developing and safeguarding a town’s vision, a local authority has only limited powers of delivery and must usually work in partnership with the other stakeholders of the High Street to achieve its aims.

“Some local authorities are doing so far more actively than others, which can be due to political factors, access to funding and, in some cases, because of a historic cultural reluctance to be proactive. After all, immediate post-war experiences of over-ambitious town centre remodelling still scar many cities, though some, such as Birmingham and Manchester, have enjoyed a renaissance.”

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