Town centres ‘in big danger of becoming ghost towns’

Former retail chief Bill Grimsey has said that our town centre’s risk ‘becoming ghost towns in the future’ if immediate action is not taken.

Grimsey, who used to be head of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, has launched his second report into the future of town centres and High Streets and encouraged the view that facilities like libraries and digital and health hubs should be part of the offering to bring back people to town centres, together with housing and some independent shops.

The new report has 25 recommendations in three sections, which cover creating a more supportive environment, government and planning and the smarter use of technology. This includes calls to replace business rates, the creation of a Town Centre Commission to develop a 20-year strategy for local high streets and the acceleration of digital transformation in smaller towns.

Grimsey said: "The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations and company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown. Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history, which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21st century.

"Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks that are convenient and with free parking. They must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there - being interesting and engaging and altogether a compelling and great experience."

Martin Tett, Local Government Association's Economy spokesman, said of the review: “Many councils throughout the country are already leading the way in transforming the future potential of their town centres in the face of unprecedented changes in shopping habits and the retail landscape.

"We are pleased that the report backs our calls for councils to have more powers and flexibility, particularly in relation to planning, to help shape and deliver vibrant town centres. The LGA stands ready to work with the government, councils and other stakeholders to help secure a prosperous long-term future for our high streets and town and city centres.”