The travails of the High Street seem a constant story in the news, the endless rise of online shopping, rates increases, Brexit etc. have led to nearly 3,000 shops shutting down in the first half of this year, at a rate of 16 per day. The West Midlands has been particularly badly affected seeing the steepest fall with Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Walsall being the hardest hit with 261 closures.
A Helping Hand
For some time retailers and unions have been calling for government action to help halt the High Street decline and it seems like some help is now at hand.
Following up on July’s announcement to assist 50 High Streets across the country through the Future High Streets Fund, last month PM Boris Johnson announced that the value of the fund is being increased by £325m to £1 billion bringing an additional 50 High Streets in to the next round of funding.
The fund, which is administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, was originally launched in December 2018 and is a key part of the Government’s plan to renew and reshape high streets and town centres acknowledging and helping to address the challenges they face.
One of the key aspects of the Fund is the acknowledgement that the High Street needs to adapt. It is widely agreed that the clock can not be turned back 10, 15 or 20 years and that trying to recreate the past is not the solution. Instead one of the fundamental aims is to return vibrancy to the High Street by creating community hubs that attract the public and retain their interest. It’s not just a question of re-opening empty stores but seeing how they can be best utilised in the 2020s, whether that is as housing, offices or some other community benefit. Additionally, a key element is to work with local operators and maximise their local knowledge, enabling local front line players to lead the recovery.
Several towns across the West Midlands including Dudley, Leamington Spa and Worcester, will join 50 areas already shortlisted to develop plans to reinvent and transform their high streets. The funding can be used to improve transport and access, convert empty retail units into new homes and workplaces and invest in vital infrastructure.
To benefit from the funding, local authorities for the shortlisted towns need to develop detailed project proposals that can then be submitted for capital funding. Applicants are expected to seek between £5-10m per application with each applicant being eligible for up to a maximum of £25m funding.
Much hope is being placed in the Fund and eyes will be on the beneficiaries to see what bang the Government gets for its buck.
Rob Pettigrew, Head of Retail & Leisure and Director of Thursfields Commercial Property team.