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.
4 KEY ELEMENTS NEEDED FOR SUCCESSFUL TOWN CENTRE REGENERATION
4.1 This chapter discusses what key elements are needed for successful town centre regeneration and draws on evidence from the literature review, consultations and particularly the case studies. The important elements that have emerged for successful town centre regeneration are: town centre scale; context and distinctiveness; need for more than physical investment; importance of a shared vision; partnership; role of small/medium business; integrating funding streams; and potential of community ownership of town centre assets.
4.2 In highlighting key elements for successful town centre regeneration it is important to acknowledge that the literature review, consultations and the case study research have all shown that town centre regeneration interventions are often conceived and planned based more on deductive reasoning from a general principle rather than observed facts. This was a common finding in the nine case studies where because of the very tight bidding programme, successful TCRF projects were typically already developed, and ready to be implemented without any significant reference to the actual aims and objectives of the TCRF. This is considered in more detail in Chapter 5.
Town Centre Scale, Distinctiveness & Context
4.3 Policies and projects directed at tackling social, economic, physical and environmental problems within town centres have had to respond to very dramatic changes that have affected Scotland's town centres and high streets over the last thirty years. Covered shopping centres, out of town retail and outlet centres and the growth of powerful retail chains operating from large premises have had a significant impact. Traditional town centres face stiff competition from established out of town centres as they struggle to face the challenges posed by the current economic recovery and look to the future.
4.4 Now in the twenty-first century the transition to a low carbon economy, higher quality urban design aspirations, the knowledge economy, new consumer markets, transport connectivity, internet shopping and different demographic patterns are driving change. Regional and local niche markets are also becoming increasingly competitive for the tourism, heritage, culture, craft and food sectors. These drivers present real challenges and opportunities to town centre regeneration but this has often to be set within a ' polycentric network of centres'. Most individual town centres and high streets do not function in isolation and need to be considered within a wider context in terms of their particular location and surrounding catchment area. Sections 2.12 - 2.16 also set a current market overview.
4.5 The nine case studies for example (see TCRF Case Studies report) considered town centres that served populations at two extremes of between 1,400 residents (Millport), in a location identified as 'remote rural' ( SG Urban Rural Classification) and 66,000 residents (Govan), in a 'large urban cities' ( SG Urban Rural Classification). Clearly, town centre regeneration interventions need to recognise the scale of the town centre. In a small town like Stromness or Millport the town centre includes a significant part of the whole town.
4.6 It was also clear from the nine case studies that the spatial boundaries and, to some degree, the 'centre of gravity' of the town centres had all changed to a greater or lesser extent and were continuing to evolve. In some cases the consequence was increasing proportions of vacant property on the edge of the town centre and a trend of reducing the floorspace in retail use. Placemaking, planning and regeneration policies need to recognise this trend and therefore regularly review town centre vacancy levels and the extent of 'prime retail frontage'. In some cases the outcome could be to encourage changes out of retail use (Class 1) into business (Class 4) and residential (Class 9) .
4.7 Town centre regeneration projects also need to be tailored to the role the town centre plays. For example, the TCRF public realm investment in Govan is helping to reinforce Govan Cross as a transport interchange and centre to respond to the service opportunities that arise from major investment in the immediate surrounding area including, Pacific Quay, Southern General Hospital and the ferry link to the new Transport Museum. In Millport the TCRF focus is on building on the success of the Garrison House refurbishment and promoting small indigenous business growth and community development.
4.8 There was a strong view in the consultations and the case studies that successful town centre regeneration needed to pay closer attention to the complex dynamics of an area and focus on the distinctiveness of the town centre. This included, for example, strengthening the identity of the place and improving the retail mix including the independent retail offer and facilities for visitors.
More than Physical Investment
4.9Chapter 3 and the literature review highlighted that traditional approaches to town centre regeneration have tended to focus on physical interventions. These can take many forms including public realm investment; acquisition and development of buildings and sites; and installing site services. The TCRF projects are also heavily biased towards physical interventions. (See Chapter 5).
4.10 Physical improvements and investments in town centres are often justified in terms of acting as a stimulus for further investment in the retail sector or creating the conditions for future commercial and residential investment. Often it is claimed that these types of projects will bring wider economic benefits including the retention of retail spend, the attraction of new visitors and spend into an area, or improving perceptions of the place, for visitors and for residents.
4.11 The experience of the case study projects has highlighted a number of issues with this approach:
- Physical investments are largely supply side interventions - this is the case in a number of the case study projects, for example Kirkintilloch, where the removal of a building and the installation of site servicing was seen to create the conditions for future development activity. There is no guarantee that this future activity will take place - and often there is a need for further interventions to ensure that it does;
- There is a critical lack of thinking about the relationship between the physical intervention and the economic and social benefits it expects to bring. There is little consideration or differentiation between physical projects regarding the timing of benefits that will flow from physical investments. The research team explored the issues surrounding results chains in more detail below;
- Given the wide ranging roles that town centres play and the range of challenges that they face there appears to be a strong case for considering a wider range of interventions as having the potential to contribute to improved performance in a town centre. These could include interventions focused on business growth, business start up, place marketing and community development to support physical interventions. Projects also need to seek to ensure that potential economic benefits from physical investment are captured locally.
Shared Town Centre Vision, Strategy and Action Plan
4.12 The requirement in successful town centre regeneration for a considered, forward project planning process that leads to a shared vision with a clear strategy and action plan of projects and programmes emerged strongly from consultations and case studies. These components, however, are often loosely defined and their effectiveness is difficult to prove.
4.13 Case studies like Barrhead, Govan, Elgin, Kirkintilloch and Kirkcaldy had a strong strategic regeneration policy context that was often already in place. This was in the form of, for example, 'Better Barrhead', Central Govan Action Plan, Moray Local Plan/Moray Town Partnership, Kirkintilloch Town centre Review and the draft Mid Fife Local Plan that includes the priority to regenerate Kirkcaldy town centre. In these case studies there was a clear TCRF project fit with the regeneration policy context and the specific town centre was identified as a clear priority by political leaders.
4.14 Evidence from the consultations and anecdotal evidence from the case studies also highlighted the need, in some cases, for the emerging town centre regeneration action plan in the short term to focus on a smaller number of priority actions in order to concentrate resources and investment rather than spreading efforts too thinly. The short, medium and long term actions would all have a good strategic fit in order to respond to the wide complexity of town centre regeneration. Resolving the dilemma of prioritising actions will be dependent on the individual town centre.
Effective & Coordinated Delivery
4.15 Consultees stressed the importance of meaningful partnership based on real involvement, active consultation and mutual trust between partners. The literature similarly highlight the importance of partnership, but proves to be more limited in terms of what works and how (Findlay and Sparks, 2009).
4.16 Overall, partnerships in town centre regeneration are commonplace and aim to share public, private and third sector expertise, actively involve businesses and residents and access additional financial resources. Partnerships loomed large in the case studies and some ( e.g. Elgin, Airdrie, Kirkcaldy, Barrhead, and Govan) were clearer regarding roles and responsibilities than others. There is a need, however, to critically examine the effectiveness of the partnership over a longer period, regularly ask if it is still required and if the partnership needs to be refreshed.
4.17 Delivering projects in town centres requires coordination with a range of stakeholders and within local authorities. The complexity of interventions in town centres means that it is essential to ensure this coordinated delivery across various local authority departments and to work closely with town centre businesses, owners and residents. For example, 'Team Stromness' was established by Orkney Islands Council to assist in coordination and delivery of the town centre regeneration projects.
4.18 Evidence from the consultations and the case studies also highlighted the importance of being specific about what individual partnerships actually deliver and therefore there is a need for more clarity on roles and responsibilities. In some cases this might mean that a single agency contribution rather than joint delivery may be more effective at delivering a particular outcome but this must be clearly articulated. The key challenge here is for individual partners to actually deliver their particular contribution well.
4.19 A particularly positive project development and delivery finding from the case studies was the emergence of much more active involvement of town centre businesses as a result of delivering TCRF projects. The view was that actual tangible evidence of investment in the town centre rather than 'just talk' made a difference in improving business confidence. In some cases ( e.g. Elgin and Kirkcaldy) the involvement accelerated the BID initiatives that were already in place. In others, such as Govan and Barrhead, the implementation of the TCRF projects has encouraged the partnerships and in particular local business groups to emerge and to consider establishing a BID.
4.20 What is essential for successful town centre regeneration is a strong civic leader and a project champion to prioritise the town centre over a longer period. Evidence from the consultations and some of the case studies is that the project champion can initiate and sustain confidence in the vision and maintain momentum on the delivery of action plan.
Importance of Small/Medium Businesses
4.21 Increasingly in Scottish town centres ( e.g. Aberdeenshire and Scottish Borders) more attention is being focussed on the important role of small and medium size independent businesses. The case studies highlighted the limited knowledge and data that was available on the businesses that would be affected by particular town centre regeneration projects. Only in very few of the case studies were one to one discussions undertaken with local and often independent businesses to identify how an individual's particular business plans may or may not be accelerated as a result of the particular TCRF project. At the same time, standard and available retail data (examples include GVA Grimley: Scottish Town centres & Local Data Company) tends not to cover small town centres and independent retail businesses, hence the need to undertake one to one discussions. The research also identified some good practice examples of new business development initiatives targeted at start up and small town centre businesses namely 'Retail Rocks' and Scottish Borders Council's new One-to-One Retail Business Support .
Retail Business Start Up Initiative Example
'Retail Rocks' is a project delivered by a private company Retail Rocks Limited. The initiative is an innovative new public/private sector partnership model which has been developed with the support of the Scottish Government using TCRF. Retail Rocks is a competition-based programme which engages with the local community by giving start-up retail businesses the opportunity to open in vacant town centre units. Critical to the success of the new businesses is the provision of business mentoring and the model already has commitment from key high street retailers and specialists in retail to provide in-kind support.
Retail Rocks has also gained support from the private sector and the British and Scottish Retail Consortium. It is designed to revitalise town centre retailing and communities by encouraging, enabling and supporting sustainable retail entrepreneurship; breaking down existing socio-economic and demographic barriers; re-educating traditional, negative mind-sets; providing a catalyst for widespread regeneration; and creating the confidence for further investment. The initiative is already targeting vacant retail units in Torry/Aberdeen with the aim of transforming them into vibrant retail businesses providing amenity and specialist retailing to help develop a new customer base for the town centres.
Retail Business Development Support Example
Scottish Borders Council's One-to-One Retail Business Support project aims to deliver targeted retail business development support to independent retailers. The package of support mainly comprises of the provision of one-to-one business development/mentoring support and coaching/training advice from a retail consultant to target 40-50 independent retailers, along with a smaller provision of 'one-to-many' events that are open to all.
The one-to-one business audits are flexible, responding to the needs of the individual retail business, and take the form of onsite meetings with the retailer and consultant, to go through a business evaluation diagnostic and action plan (which will be provided back to the business within 48 hours by the consultant), with follow up contact/visits made as appropriate. Technical assistance on merchandising and marketing, staff training, identification of financial support programs, tackling trade waste and recycling and regulatory issues is also be available. Along similar lines, Skills Development Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, through the National Skills Academy Retail, are offering free taster sessions of the 'Mary Portas guide to successful retailing'.
Townscape Heritage: Integrating Community Ownership
4.22 Two of the case studies, Stromness and Govan, used TCRF to augment and accelerate Heritage Lottery Fund ( HLF) Townscape Heritage Initiative projects ( THI). THI's use HLF grants to help communities to regenerate Conservation Areas displaying particular social and economic need throughout the United Kingdom. THI encourages partnerships of local organisations to carry out repairs and other works to a number of historic buildings, structures or spaces within these defined areas that are often contained within town centres. THI schemes are expected to deliver the following outcomes:
- Preserving and enhancing the character and appearance of conservation areas affected by high levels of deprivation and in need of regeneration;
- Bringing historic buildings back into appropriate and sustainable use;
- Safeguarding the character of conservation areas through: increasing training opportunities in heritage skills; increasing community participation; and improving approaches to conservation management and maintenance.
4.23 Recently emerging from this focus on townscape and historic buildings have been community-led initiatives to take ownership of iconic and often listed town centre buildings at below market value as community assets. These aim to play a catalytic role in successful town centre regeneration by initiating third sector businesses, bringing new economic uses into redundant but important buildings in the local townscape and generating civic pride. These initiatives will need to be evaluated in due course. In the case studies, Garrison House in Millport, driven by the Cumbrae Community Development Company, and the Pearce Institute, a Grade A listed landmark community building in Govan, are good examples of this type of town centre regeneration project. Another example is the acquisition of the Port House complex by Jedburgh Community Trust as part of the Jedburgh project. This is the first part in a longer term initiative to create employment opportunities through the provision of new employment space and further funding will be needed to achieve this.
4.24 This trend of community ownership of some town centre buildings is likely to continue in the future with the public sector looking to divest of a variety of different types of property in a range of town centres. It is still early but community-led initiatives could in some cases produce positive town centre regeneration outcomes. These could include securing new uses for prominent buildings, accommodating third sector business and advice and community uses. Here, clear demand needs to be demonstrated and a robust business plan prepared by using Theories of Change to demonstrate how the emerging project can respond to gaps in provision, market failures and achieve particular outcomes. This is also in line with the integrated town centre approach highlighted in Chapter 2.
4.25 In the next few years more could be done to assist communities to explore the feasibility of the community owning and operating these kinds of assets. Local authorities and the public sector need to take a more strategic view in prioritising asset transfer in town centres and assisting communities where demand exists. Communities will need assistance from agencies like the Development Trusts Association to raise awareness, assess risks, quantify benefits, provide appropriate training and to disseminate emerging good practice examples.
Key Elements for Successful Town Centre Regeneration: Conclusions
4.26 This study has found that town centre regeneration interventions are often conceived and planned based more on deductive reasoning from a general principle rather than observed facts. However, this chapter demonstrates that successful town centre regeneration needs to recognise that town centres and high streets do not function in isolation and need to be considered within a wider context in terms of their particular location and surrounding catchment area and to focus on the distinctiveness of the town centre. Successful town centre regeneration depends on designing and implementing a small number of connected 'place making' projects that also involve business development often targeted at independent businesses and wider marketing to the local community and visitors.
4.27 The requirement in successful town centre regeneration for a considered forward project planning process that leads to a shared vision with a clear strategy and action plan of projects and programmes emerged strongly from consultations and case studies. Partnerships also loomed large in the case studies and some were clearer regarding roles and responsibilities than others. There is a need, however, to critically examine the effectiveness of the partnership over a longer period, regularly ask if it is still required and if the partnership needs to be refreshed.
4.28 The case studies also highlighted the need for a mechanism to enable a group of interested town centre stakeholders to meet as a group to progress and agree a town centre vision. This is unlikely to happen without external 'cross agency' support to encourage the skills and energy in the town centre community and some resourcing to help deliver initiatives. The BID process has often acted as this kind of catalyst for the town centre business community.
4.29 In Scottish town centres more attention is being focussed on the important role of small and medium size independent businesses. The research also identified some good practice examples of new business development initiatives targeted at start up and small town centre businesses. Recently emerging from the focus on townscape and historic buildings have been community-led initiatives to take ownership of iconic and often listed town centre buildings at below market value as community assets.
4.30Increasingly it seems that there is no template for successful town centre regeneration. A key challenge therefore is to identify what is distinctive about the particular town centre. It is also vital to acknowledge that town centre regeneration is a long-term process but this can be difficult given the emphasis on physical interventions and the traditionally short-term property perspectives.
4.31Investing in business development, business start up and social capital may be as important as the physical investment. The complexity of integrated town centre regeneration and the lack of an explanation of links between activities and longer term anticipated outcomes, however, mean that these links are difficult to prove and often not understood. In other words, there is an absence of an evidence base or even anticipated 'results chain' for most town centre regeneration.
4.32 Town centre regeneration is complex: the outcomes are often long term and causal links between projects and outcomes are often not clear. Typically, there is little robust explanation of how and why outcomes have happened (or are anticipated). A new, more rigorous approach is required, to provide a logical framework to underpin and map a clear 'results chain', using evidence and clearer definitions. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 respond to some of the issues that have been identified and draw out how effective planning, monitoring and evaluation are essential. Also discussed is how a Theories of Change approach can assist in enhancing planning, supporting the development of an evaluation framework and help to attribute actual changes found to the TCR project activities.
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