High street

Government said it was looking to work with ’visionary local leaders’

Applicants seeking a slice of the £675m Future High Streets Fund to help regenerate town centres have until 22 March to register an ‘expression of interest’.

The call from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government comes after the government launched Our Plan for the High Street last autumn, including a cut in business rates by up to a third for a wide range of shops for two years, a consultation on planning reform, and the creation of a Town Centres Expert Panel, headed by Sir John Timpson, chairman of shoe-care and engraving retailer Timpson.

James Brokenshire, housing, communities and local government secretary, and Jake Berry, minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, said they were looking to work with visionary local leaders who understood what their local communities would need in the years ahead.

Read more: High streets experts call for a ‘national perfect day’

They called for initial enquiries for funding from a range of interested parties including local government, community groups and the private sector setting out their challenges and strategic approach to regenerating town centres. A second funding phase will see the development of full business cases. Sir John’s report, published on 20 Christmas, concluded “The town centre of the future should attract local people to take part in a variety of activities - including dining, leisure and sport, culture and the arts, entertainment, medical services, and many more uses. “They should also contain business premises, offices, residential including affordable housing. We have more shops than we need and are short of housing in many parts of the country. It seems to us obvious that “part of the retail estate should be converted into residential property where there is a housing shortage.”

He added that a one-size-fits-all solution would not work. Local teams in each town must discover a culture and central purpose that united their community and attracted them to the town’s central hub.

Panel member Graham Galpin, a senior councillor at Ashford Borough Council, which has successfully reinvigorated its town centre, said: “Town centres will need to be reinvented for life in the 21st century and if we don’t repurpose and change the offer than we won’t have a high street to worry about.”