Blackpool has Right Approach – Future of High Street is reducing not protecting proportion of retail in town centres

PSE Online

A series of projects that will catalyse a £100m regeneration of Blackpool town centre has been approved.

Included in Blackpool Council’s major investment projects is a £26m state-of-the-art conference centre, a £23m tram extension and the development of Blackpool’s first five-star hotel.

Also included in the approved three-year timeline is the development of a Blackpool museum, the extension of the Houndshill Shopping Centre, and a £7m Quality Corridors programme which will see the refurbishment of a host of major roads.

The council say these projects will “breathe new life into the town centre” and attract visitors throughout the year.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council said: “The face of retailing is changing more extensively and rapidly than anyone can have expected, resulting in increased levels of high street retail vacancy in town and city centres right across the county.

“We are also conscious that a number of well-documented, reputable reports have shown that those town centres that are most dependent on retail premises have suffered most badly and those town centres with less retail, more offices and other forms of leisure activities have fared the best.

“All of these investments and proposals address that issue and will bring new footfall, spend and life into our town centre. Put together, they will deliver transformational change.”

What studies – well lets start with this one from the ERSC .

higher spending can be generated by a diverse town centre which can satisfy customers’ needs for immediate purchase of the goods they want. Other than factors relating to product availability and convenience, ‘softer’, experiential factors such as overall enjoyment from visiting the town centre and pleasure from the social interaction and appreciating the town centre atmosphere are also reported as contributing to higher levels of spend

Social activity enhances a town centre shopping visit, translating into added value in terms of time and money spent in the town centre. Evidence suggests that social interaction in the town centre, such as shopping with friends or family and combining shopping with having a refreshment in a town centre café or bar, increases dwell time in the town and therefore the probability of greater spend (Figure 6). Recent research19 demonstrates that the presence of coffee shops typically boosts local high street economies by 2 to 4% through a combination of increased footfall and dwell time. As such, local businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of the leisure offer on their high streets to their individual trading.
As this Evidence Review has stressed, the ‘leisure aspect’ of shopping trips is a significant driver of footfall; the leisure offer increases not only dwell time, but also the average spent during trips to town centres and high streets. Local businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of the leisure offer on their high streets to their individual trading. Additionally, people more and more see the value of leisure spaces – spaces for casual dining like cafes, pubs etc – as community meeting hubs and places for mobile working and networking. Overall, what becomes clear from the evidence reviewed is that the “experiential” side of the town centre journey – that is to say, social interaction, visits to cafes and cultural activities, together with the overall town centre atmosphere – heighten enjoyment, increase dwell time and spend in centres, and deter consumers from resorting to online alternatives.

This of course is part of a much broader shift in undertstanding of town centres.  With ideas from thinkers such as Jahn Gehl, on what makes people dwell, and Peter Jones link/place concept – links maximiing movement of people, places maximising number of people not moving (turning the traffic planning concept of generalised cost of travel on its head) and pulling all this neatly together Brent Toderians concept of sticky streets, maximising the factors that make people want to stay. 

Yet despite this tsunami of evidence British Planning still has a hangover of URPI (unit for retail planning information) thinking and their 35% rule for non-retail.  This finding almost 50 years old now.  Of course areas with a high proportion of non retail had less turnover, because they has included fringe areas with less footfall.  They had made the number 1 planning research mistake of spatial autocorrelation – mistaking correlation for caution by misindentfying the independent variable and the spatially driving factors. 

consider Anywhere County Town High Street.  It is is worried about the closure of big names, House of Frasier and BHS has closed, the future doesnt look good for Debenhams, even Marks and Sparks have relocated to an out of town retail park.  It produces two options

  1.  Consolidating retail at one end of the town centre, with a ‘café quarter’ at the other
  2. Abolishing the primary frontage and encouraging a mix of vital uses including retail throughout

What does the evidence suggest.  Clearly option 2, even though 90% of local plans throughout the UK would suggest the former. 

Lets look into their data – the part of the centre with the closed big named stores has the lowest proportion of non retail active frontage uses, the part of the centre with the highest proportion has the fewest retail vacancies and the shops which are trading better.

There is no point in protecting a notional % of retail if that number is dominated by pound , vaping and charity shops because the low footfall can only support a bottom feeder market.  In constrast centres which allow more bait to be spread have bigger fish they people keep coming back to catch.

Our approach to planning in town centres has become an ideology, a dogma, without evidential support.  if our high streets are to survive we have to cast it out. 

Fantasy Need and Fantasy Supply – The Underpants Gnomes are driving the London Plan EIP

  1. Made up ‘objective need’ using Brokenshire’s red pen SOAN which assumes people from the North of England will move their need to London even though these people don’t exist in the ONS or GLA migration or employment forecasts + Made up Supply using Sadiq Khan’s red pen in the London Plan where magically small sites (really windfalls) with no evidence of availability or deliverability as required by the NPPF are magicked out of thin air to fill the supply gap
  2. ????????????????????????????????????????????????
  3. Published London Plan matching need and supply

Sound like the Underpants Gnomes to me.

Perhaps they should be invited participants to the London Pan EIP – as only they could perform phase 2 a period where early electioneering for 2020 has replaced all evidence and objectivity.

The panel should have none of this nonsense.  The kind of nonsense that happened in the first London Plan EIP where the GLA successfully lobbied the Planning inspectorate directly to give them a soft ride.  Something Chris Shepley told me would NEVER EVER have happened on his watch.  Either the inspectorate are independent, analytical, objective, fair to all parties,  and challenging of BS or they are nothing.

They should require all parties to come back with real numbers that seperate Need, from Policy Target and evidenced supply, from Desired Supply and necessary overspill to outside London.

Without this it is impossible for the panel to do their job.