Cultural events key to successful town centres

A strong independent retail offer, a year-round programme of cultural events and family-friendly activities are the key strategies for underpinning successful town centres of the future.

This is according to a new survey published by the Institute of Economic Development and the Lichfields consultancy. The report argues that, whilst 92 per cent of economic development and regeneration professionals surveyed confirmed that town centre vacancy rates have increased in the past five years, nearly half said that they are ‘positive’ or very positive about the prospects of town centres strengthening their position/offer.

Within this, private sector consultancy respondents (67 per cent) are more optimistic about the future than local authority officers (47 per cent).

To drive footfall in town centres, respondents to this survey reported that leisure and culture (48 per cent), food and beverage (41 per cent) and independent retail (35 per cent) are very important – and to repurpose vacant space it was independent retail (34 per cent), leisure and culture (34 per cent) and residential (28 per cent) carrying the highest overall weighting.

However, when asked about underpinning strategies for supporting successful town centres of the future, a strong independent retail offer (52 per cent), a year-round programme of cultural events (48 per cent) and family-friendly activities (45 per cent) are perceived to be very important.

In contrast, respondents are less convinced about the effectiveness of current interventions in positioning town centres for success in the future. Only 13 per cent said the same about business improvement districts and 17 per cent about the various planning levers available to local areas. Enterprise arcades, with easy in/easy out terms, low rents/rates and business support, featured more prominently as a weighted average.

Nigel Wilcock, executive director of the IED, said: “This research has identified some clear priorities for the future of town centres and approaches to driving footfall, repurposing vacant space and overall place management. We have already run successful CPD sessions on the future of town centres with Lichfields which explored some of the issues and opportunities facing town centres as the economy emerges from the aftermath of Covid-19 and examined the tools available to local authorities to support their evolution. Developing the right interventions and approaches to delivering change were part of that programme, and with the knowledge we now have from this survey we will feed this into our next round of professional development activities.”