Refreshing to hear some enthusiasm from regeneration and property leaders at Medway Council, Ealing Council and Enfield Council in conversation with our head of town centres Partner, Alan Harris, all looking ahead to debate the role that Councils can play in redefining town centres in 2021.
All speakers identified the current challenges to retail and vacancies on the high street as providing opportunities for significantly higher levels of Council led intervention once current restrictions are lifted. Communities will be looking to local authorities to redefine town centres as places to meet, seek healthcare and wellbeing services and enjoy outdoor events. These Councils are therefore looking at innovative ways to deliver public realm, flexible uses with residential that truly reflect the needs of the communities they serve. Partnerships with the private sector will be key to realising this; something here at Montagu Evans we regularly advise our clients on.
Connor McDonagh at Ealing Council spoke about cultural identity and the creative repurposing of existing and heritage buildings as an efficient way for local authorities to make good use of their assets whilst reinforcing local identity.
Heritage, both in terms of the built environment as well as the cultural story of place, can be an important anchor for reinforcing this identity and can drive value, but it needs to be well defined and well-reasoned to ensure it does not discourage investment if seen as too restrictive and costly to ‘deal with’ in the planning system. As part of more significant interventions or masterplanning, Councils will need to set a clear objectives for the protection of significant assets and the character of the place, identify what’s special about these places early on in combination with their conservation advisers, and the minimum interventions needed to preserve them.
Given the challenges in funding town centre schemes, these objectives will need to build in flexibility and adaptability for interpretation and innovation which still retain that identity and are attractive to investors. Montagu Evans will be working together to see how we can help facilitate this.