Regeneration strategy key to high street success

New Centre for Cities research has revealed that many high streets face a bleak future as policymakers are failing to identify a clear economic focus to city centre regeneration strategies.

The research suggests that high street success is defined by those policies that create skills, jobs and quality office space for businesses rather than currently accepted interventions such as cultural initiatives, business rate reforms and online sales taxes.

Government funding should focus on upskilling workers and attracting professional businesses into city centres, as specific interventions are unlikely to succeed due to a lack of consumer spending power needed to sustain a mix of amenities.

The report, What’s in store?, found that prosperous city centres with lots of office space and high-skilled jobs accommodate significantly more varied high street amenities than economically weak cities. In prosperous cities with low vacancy rates such as Cambridge, restaurants and cafes account for around 30 per cent of units. But in economically weaker cities with more empty units, such as Newport, the proportion of eateries falls below 10 per cent and the number of shops rises.

The organisations recommends improving educational attainment and skills provision for people living in cities, investing in transport systems to allow better access to amenities and city centre jobs and providing businesses with quality facilities and office space in the city centre.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Good jobs and a strong local economy are the keys to saving high streets. Any interventions that seek to improve cities’ amenities without boosting consumer spending power are doomed to fail from an economic perspective.

“Specific cultural initiatives have many civic benefits, but policymakers should be wary of using them as a tool to regenerate local economies. Policy should focus on improving cities’ overall economic performance. Crucially this means using high street funding to boost the skills and incomes of residents.”