Councils urged to be brave to transform high streets

 Councils across South Worcestershire have been urged to be 'brave' by a regeneration expert to help the area's high streets become fit for the future.

Jackie Sadek, Chief Executive of UK Regeneration, told a Retail Seminar hosted by Wychavon that local government was at the heart of the debate about how to help town centres find their place in the 21st Century.

Last Friday's event (January 18) saw representatives from Wychavon, Malvern Hills District and Worcester City Councils gather to explore with a panel of experts how to develop policies that will help high streets deal with changing consumer habits.

Ms Sadek was part of the team that produced the Grimsey Reviews, two landmark reports that promoted a radical new blueprint for high streets.

She told the seminar: "The tectonic plates of retail are shifting and the future of our town centres will not be retail alone but a mix of uses – leisure, health, education and anything else that will help attract footfall. It's about experiences, because experiences can't be bought online.

"We can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We have to be brave in this new world."

The event also heard from Matthew Hopkinson – another author of the reports and founder of data company Didobi – who stressed there were just too many shops across the UK. He said despite falling demand the sector had added 6.5million square foot of new retail space in the last five years.

He urged councils to look at the role high streets could have in tackling social isolation amongst a rapidly growing older population while also ensuring they were responding to the changing habits of the next generation.

Those attending were also given an insight into the Government's £675million Future High Streets Fund to help local areas adapt to change. All three South Worcestershire Councils are developing separate expressions of interest in the scheme with the hope they will be invited to submit a formal bid for funding.

Cllr Marc Bayliss, Leader of Worcester City Council, said: "Worcester has traversed the travails of the high street well, and recent figures have shown we saw a rise in footfall while numbers for most other cities have dropped off. This seminar was a useful forum for discussing the challenges of the future as the high street continues to change. We will continue to work with our partners to prepare, and we are already making good progress on our City Centre Masterplan."

Cllr Bradley Thomas, Leader of Wychavon District Council, said: "We know our town centres are under pressure but the need for change represents a huge opportunity to reinvent them as social hubs our communities can revolve around not just a place to buy goods and services."

Cllr David Chambers, Leader of Malvern Hills District Council, said: "When we consult with residents of all ages we hear the concerns about their high streets. They are passionate about them, as are we, and this event will help inform our thinking about how we can further support them to adapt so they remain successful in the future."

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