By Daniel Hunter

The CBI and EC Harris today (Friday) unveiled a package of measures for the public and private sectors to work together to unlock local growth, overhaul business rates and rejuvenate the UK’s towns and cities.

In a new report, developed with leading built asset consultants EC Harris, the CBI is calling for strong local leadership to work with businesses and the Government to deliver new homes, modern offices, good transport links and thriving high streets.

The next regeneration: unlocking local growth outlines a blueprint for regeneration. Among the measures it calls for are: a one-year business rates holiday for firms moving into empty property; planning changes to make it easier to convert empty shops into homes and for cafés and restaurants to introduce temporary outside seating; and using the public sector balance sheet to kick-start investment in building projects.

The report also highlights the need for more joined-up strategic local leadership and more proactive planning allied with early private sector engagement. With one in seven shops on the high street now lying empty, proper planning and a strategic vision is essential to securing the future success of our evolving high street and in tough financial times, public money, land and property must be leveraged with private sector investment to kick start projects.

Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “Too many grand regeneration projects of the past have failed to deliver and public money has been wasted.

“We want to ensure growth reaches all parts of the UK and that means co-ordinated action to rejuvenate our towns and cities.

“Thriving local communities need good amenities on their doorstep, ranging from decent housing, good leisure and public services, and most importantly — jobs. For businesses to invest, good transport links and modern office space are a must.

“The high street is the beating heart of our towns and cities but we can’t reinvent them as they once were. That’s why we’re calling for action on business rates to ease the pressure on retailers, and for planning laws to be relaxed to turn empty shops into homes and create more of a café culture.

“To kick-start private sector investment we need to see more creative use of public sector balance sheets and surplus land and property being put to good use.

“All of this will need to be co-ordinated by a strong visionary leader — whether that’s a council chief executive, Local Enterprise Partnership chief or a directly-elected Mayor.”

Tim Neal, UK Regional Leader, EC Harris, said: “The private sector has an important role to play in fostering the growth of our local economies and creating thriving communities across the country.

“The Government is committed to the more effective pooling of built assets across the public sector, but where deployed imaginatively, it is also possible to use those surplus assets to play a major role in making new regeneration viable for the developer community.

“But none of this will happen without energetic, entrepreneurial and truly collaborative partnerships across public and private sector bodies. The need for clear civic leadership that fosters a sense of ambition for a place and its people; and clearly articulates the local competitive advantage, has never been greater.”

The report highlights five key measures which must be united to deliver a new approach to regeneration:

United and strategic local leadership

- Empowered local Leaders must work strategically, looking at the whole of the local economy, beyond short term and parochial interests
- Flexible and joined-up funding to local areas, such as through the Local Growth Fund must be backed over the long-term by political parties
- Local growth initiatives must be co-ordinated, aligned and targeted across the same geographical area

Proactive planning allied with early private sector engagement

- Local authorities should be looking to innovate through merging resources and embedding more commercial strategy in regeneration plans,
- They must follow leading local councils who have already had success with private sector engagement and arm’s-length delivery bodies, like the Olympic Delivery Authority
- LEPs must also play a stronger role in ensuring sufficient new homes are built to meet local needs

Reformed business rates and business leadership to support high street rejuvenation

- With 1 in 7 shops in the UK high street lying empty it is important to recognise that shops will play a smaller role in the developing space of town centres
- Planning changes to make it easier to convert shops into homes should be implemented without further delay as well as removing the need for planning consent for temporary seating on high streets
- Business Improvement Districts bringing together local businesses need to be strengthened, evolving into investment bodies that can act as a single strategic organisation to design and implement an area improvement plan
- A cap on rates increases and a year-long rates holiday on long-term empty properties can encourage growth and investment.

Alignment of national and local infrastructure plans

- Local and national schemes must be integrated to ensure maximum impact, local support and the completion of plans
- Local Transport Bodies must back schemes in alignment with the wider growth priorities set out by LEPs

Financing regeneration requires creative new approaches

- Public money must be joined up with private sector investment to back schemes that will generate long term returns as through Urban Development Funds
- Public bodies must free up surplus assets - properties or land - to be used for regeneration
- Strong public sector balance sheets used to underwrite investment from the private sector in key regeneration schemes through innovative tax schemes, such as Tax Increment Financing, TIF, or guaranteeing private investment.

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