Town Centre Regeneration: How Does it Work & What can be Achieved?

The report presents findings of research undertaken to assess the scope and nature of the outputs and longer-term outcomes that arise from town centre regeneration and to identify the relevant contextual factors, mechanisms and processes that contribute to achieving these outputs and outcomes. The report is one of four publications produced by this research.

1 Executive Summary


1.1 The purpose of the research was to develop a clearer understanding of the activities taking place as part of town centre regeneration and the outputs and outcomes that follow on from this, to understand how town centre regeneration works and what it can achieve.

Research Aims and Objectives

1.2 The first aim of the research was to assess the scope and nature of the outputs and longer term outcomes that arise from town centre regeneration and to identify the relevant contextual factors, mechanisms and processes that contribute to achieving these outputs and outcomes. It was anticipated that a longitudinal approach, incorporating in-depth analysis of a limited number of case studies would be required. The second aim was to develop and populate a 'theory of change' for town centre regeneration, drawing on existing data and evidence, clearly identifying gaps in the evidence that should be explored in this research. While the impetus for the research is the Town Centre Regeneration Fund ( TCRF) it also aimed to draw out and explore wider lessons for town centre regeneration.

Research Methodology

1.3 A four stage methodology was developed to be undertaken over an 18 month period starting in October 2009 and is outlined in the Appendices report which is available as a separate document. This Final Report has been prepared at the end of Stage Four and is a synthesis of the conclusions from all four stages of the research. Good practice and important lessons are presented in text boxes.

Research Findings

Complex Concept: Requires Integrated Town Centre Regeneration Strategies

1.4 Town centre regeneration is complex. It deals with interrelated and multi-dimensional issues that are not easily analysed or solved and furthermore are driven by the wider economic and other factors associated with the town (and for some larger towns, the sub-region). An integrated/holistic approach is required across local authority functions, businesses and communities and beyond just physical (typically retail) projects. This kind of approach needs to focus on services, cultural, civic, community and visitor assets. Town centre strategies should sit within whole town strategies.

Town Centre Scale & Distinctiveness: In Changing Wider Context

1.5 Twenty-first century drivers like the transition to a low carbon economy, higher quality urban design aspirations, the knowledge economy and the internet present real challenges and opportunities to town centre regeneration. It is essential to identify the particular distinctive features of the town centre. Town centres have evolved and will continue to change to take account of structural economic change with implications for town centre regeneration.

Town Centre Regeneration Needs More Than Physical Investment

1.6 Traditional approaches to town centre regeneration focus on physical interventions. The TCRF has followed this path. Physical investment is often justified in terms of it stimulating demand for further investment, protecting retail, attracting visitors and developing civic pride. There is a clear case for considering other types of intervention alongside physical investment, including measures to directly support businesses, stimulate business growth, attracting visitors or encourage pride in the town centre.

Shared Vision, Strategy & Action Plan

1.7 In most cases, successful town centre regeneration requires a clear vision, strategy and action plan to provide a strategic fit for project interventions. These terms are often loosely defined and therefore more difficult to monitor and evaluate particularly in the absence of the use of Theories of Change.

Partnership is Not an Outcome: Effective & Coordinated Delivery is Essential

1.8 Delivering projects in town centres requires coordination with partners and within local authorities. Partnerships are common place but there is a need for more clarity on roles and responsibilities. Resources are often committed over timescales that are too short for realistic change in town centres. Civic leaders/project champions are needed to prioritise town centres over a longer period and to initiate confidence in the vision, strategy and delivery of action plan.

Small/Medium Businesses & Potential of Community Ownership of Assets

1.9 The case studies highlighted the limited knowledge and data that was available on the small/medium businesses that would be affected by particular town centre regeneration projects. In the case studies, only in very few examples were one to one discussions undertaken with local and often independent businesses.

1.10 Community-led initiatives to take ownership of iconic and often listed town centre buildings at below market value as community assets are starting to emerge and will need to be evaluated in due course.

Improving Town Centre Regeneration Project Planning: Using 'Results Chain'

1.11 The research highlighted limitations in project planning within town centre regeneration/ TCRF interventions. These include a lack of results chains which link activities and outputs (the things they deliver) directly to their anticipated outcomes (the changes to environments and ultimately people). Activities tend not to be described in detail nor specify whose behaviour they are targeted at and outcomes often lack timescales or thresholds (the type and level of change that will be achieved).

1.12 A fresh and more thorough approach to planning of interventions is needed. This would also help address many of the limitations in monitoring and evaluation that have been identified in the research. Logic models should be employed to develop a prospective results chain (theory of change). This would provide more details of planned activities and targets as well as more clarity over intended outcomes and thresholds.

Improving Town Centre Health Check Assessments & Monitoring

1.13 The research has confirmed that there is a lack of consistency in approaches to monitor the health of town centres. There is often inconsistency across local authority areas and only rarely can meaningful comparisons be made between different town centres in different parts of the country. While monitoring town centre health is challenging, improving approaches and developing consistency is crucially important. Without it, it is difficult to make evidence based judgements on prioritising need, nor is it easy to make judgements on the success of projects.

Evaluation of Town Centre Projects: Limitations

1.14 The evaluation base around the effectiveness of town centre regeneration is poorly developed. There is a lack of critical longitudinal evidence on the difference that town centre regeneration can make. In addition, evaluation within the TCRF projects was not seen as a priority. This is partly related to the lack of time to fully develop projects/result chains but is also a result of a lack of evaluation skills in the sector. These are serious issues which will continue to undermine the town centre regeneration sector if not addressed.

Addressing Limitations in Evaluation: Applying Theories of Change

1.15 To demonstrate the impact of town centre regeneration programmes on outcomes (effectiveness), there is a need to be able to provide monitoring data on programme implementation (process) and to link this to both routine monitoring and evaluation data on outcomes. For most programmes, routine monitoring data alone will not be sufficient to show changes in either short or interim outcomes. It is likely that projects will require some primary data collection to address their key evaluation questions and to improve attribution.

1.16Theories of Change is an approach to evaluation which aims to enhance project planning, to help build monitoring and evaluation frameworks and to improve attribution (confidence that the changes in outcomes found are a result of the programme activities). A Theories of Change approach has much to offer town centre regeneration. Several case studies perceived the approach as adding value to their monitoring and evaluation plans and for future project development.

TCRF as a Tool for Delivering Town Centre Regeneration

1.17 The case studies have shown that TCRF was an important intervention in generating confidence and mobilising business groups in town centres. The tight bidding and delivery timescales meant that in most cases this was achieved by the funding accelerating the actual delivery of 'bottom drawer' schemes that were already worked up with stakeholder buy-in and the necessary 'in principle' approvals in place. On the other hand this meant that in some of the case studies, projects that had been 'just talk' did become real and tangible and implementation on the ground had a clear impact on business and resident confidence.

1.18 The weaknesses of the 2009/10 TCRF programme included the short timescale for bids/delivery; capital only eligibility criteria; competitive bidding arrangements that were sometimes inefficient; the lack of consistent baselines and the lack of detailed results chains at the early project planning stage.

Conclusions & Recommendations

1.19 Table 7.1 summarises the research team's findings, highlights ten concluding recommendations and identifies the particular agencies that would be responsible for progressing the individual recommendations.

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