We have seen a steady increase in the number of businesses in our towns and local centres closing. There’s a number of reasons for this including, growing business rates, online shopping, changing consumer behaviour, a decrease in both consumer, and public sector spending.
In May 2018, the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee launched an inquiry into the Future of High Streets 2030 to look at what action could be taken to plan for the future of our local centres. The Committee published their findings in February 2019 and made a number of recommendations to the Government comprising, high street funding, a reduction in business rates for retailers based in towns centres and on high streets, and a town centres first policy.
During the budget 2018, the Government announced it would make cuts to business rates by a third, for two years, and release a Future High Streets Fund of £675 million to invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure.
“The health of towns and local centres across the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area is absolutely critical to the economic fabric of our region. Supporting their success is one of GBSLEP’s key objectives, as set out in our strategic economic plan.
“Our towns are distinctive and complementary to the cities in the region, creating a wider ecosystem of places to live, visit and work.”
As part of their Strategic Economic Plan, GBSLEP set an objective to develop thriving towns and local centres recognising that, while Birmingham city centre is an economic hub and a focal point for growth and investment, the surrounding towns and local centres are equally important to the regions social and economic structures, providing a distinct and complimentary offer to the city centre.
With the development of the Town and Local Centres Framework, GBSLEP have the opportunity to help breath life back into towns and local centres. The Framework will help businesses create places people want to visit, where they can be part of a thriving and vibrant community, and have access to residential, commercial and leisure opportunities.
Businesses in towns and local centre are finding it difficult to compete with developing technology and changes in consumer behaviour as they try and make the essential transition from retail focused centres to social hubs that offer a mix of leisure, cultural and residential facilities.
This new approach will require a strategic and sustainable plan to ensure that towns and local centres meet consumer and business needs, and remain commercially viable.
GBSLEP’s challenge is to ensure the regeneration and development of towns, and local centres work in tandem with other economic drivers to create thriving places where people want to work, visit and invest in.
The Towns and Local Centres Framework was developed to act as a guidance document for investment, setting good practice for regeneration and ensuring inclusive growth to improve the quality of life for all communities.
The Framework is designed to support smaller projects that add a sense of place, support local communities and economies that underpin larger investment programmes.
Informed by research carried out by the European Spatial Planning Observation Network, GBSLEP have adopted an eco-system approach to regenerating towns and local centres based on the understanding of the communities they serve, as well as strengthening existing assets.
As part of the approach, businesses, towns and local centre planners, and investors are encouraged to develop a network beyond their localities with the intention of creating robust and sustainable development plans that benefit the region.
GBSLEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, Enabling Fund, is allocated to projects that need to carry out early stage work to define a preferred option to implement further development. Projects may include, option appraisals, master planning, feasibility studies and consultancy support etc. The Enabling Fund includes research into options for regenerating towns and local centres.
As part of a wider town regeneration plan, East Staffordshire Borough Council sought funding for research to look into options to develop the pedestrian area of Burton town centre.
Station Street is a key pedestrian area in Burton town centre however, it is lacking an identity and offer to businesses, residents and visitors. The town centre is also in need of modernisation.
The findings of the research were used to inform the redesign of Station Street as a public realm, making it a place that attracts businesses, shoppers and visitors.
Attracting more visitors to the town centre would therefore, create stronger conditions for business growth – strengthening local assets, supporting local businesses and creating jobs.
The Burton Town Regeneration Programme is set to regenerate the town centre to create a sense of place and identity for the town – at the same time, meeting GBSLEP’s place and business pillar, strategic, priorities.
Using evidence from a range of research into UK-based regeneration projects, GBSLEP have developed guidelines across six place-focused categories:
For a more detailed overview of these categories, see the Town and Local Centres Framework.
As part of their application for funding, East Staffordshire Borough Council’s response to the categories set out in the Framework are as follows:
Streets and spaces
The project will transform the town simply by asking the question ‘what does Burton need to look like?’ This approach allows the Council to identify short and long term objectives aimed at meeting the needs of the community.
It informs a clear regeneration plan for the town aimed at significantly improving the public realm and through this, footfall in the town centre. By improving the town’s appeal, it enhances users’ experiences, both those who live and visit the town.
The project is open ended, focused around the transformation of the town and so will consider innovative solutions to transforming the town.
Technological schemes will look at digital signage and public artwork however, it is not a central feature of the project.
The project looks at how Burton can distinctly identify itself from other town centres and digital solutions are considered as a way of achieving this. This will be less to do with infrastructure improvements and more to do with digital enhancements to the public realm.
Transport and accessibility
As this project is partnered with the Local Highways Authority (Staffs CC), transport and accessibility is considered through the regeneration plan. This will specifically focus on two elements — accessibility into the town centre from the wider town areas (including connectivity, traffic flow, routes) and routes within the town centre to encourage footfall (e.g. reviewing pedestrianised areas).
Signage remains an important element of the regeneration plan in order to connect people to key destinations and improve the wayfinding within the town centre.
Partnerships and structures
This project is being delivered in partnership with Staffordshire County Council and involves regular briefings and engagement with the Burton and District Chamber of Commerce. Direct consultation with businesses and other public organisations has taken place through listening events, breakfast briefings and direct mail.
Monitoring and evaluation
This project is being monitored and evaluated in accordance with East Staffordshire Borough Council’s project management methodology, with regular reporting to the Burton Town Regeneration Programme Board.
As required by GBSLEP, the Council provides updates as required, end of project reports and project outcomes.
As a result of the research, the Station Street Project will address:
The design scheme
The scheme reflects the flow of the nearby River Trent. The vehicle route flows up the street, with feature pebble shaped benches on either side. To reinforce the theme, pebble shaped planting beds straddle the street. There is space for cafes and restaurants to place seating outdoors.
The design is preliminary and subject to change but not at the detriment of the intention to create an urban street that reflects the National Forest and provides a space that encourages investment and growth, and offers a positive visitor experience.
Key milestones of the project:
“Since its inception in 2017, the Burton Town Regeneration Programme has focussed on improving the appeal of Burton to residents, visitors and businesses. A number of East Staffordshire Borough Council projects have already been completed and the Station Street regeneration project will continue this work.
“Together with Staffordshire County Council, we are committed to supporting the growth of the local economy. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively and delivering this fantastic project as it is something Burton deserves and has needed for a long time.
“East Staffordshire Borough Council has set aside a provision of up to £1.4m for the delivery of the project. Both the final designs and costings are subject to approval by East Staffordshire Borough Council Members which will take place post-election. Once approval has been granted we hope to start work as soon as possible.”