The problems facing our towns and shopping centres have been building up over the last twenty years caused by a combination of short-term planning and an oversupply of retail space.
This has been fuelled by institutional investors’ appetite for shopping centre and High Street investments coupled with the private equity fuelled expansion of retailers. This in turn has led to retail space being overpriced and outpricing other uses from our town centres. This problem has now been exacerbated by the huge number of voids that have appeared on our High Streets and in our Shopping Centres as a result of the seismic changes in the retail sector as a result of the growth of online retail and the global pandemic.
Housing is part of the solution but not on its own. The starting point for any regeneration project is to understand the needs and requirements of the current population; how do people use the current facilities, what’s missing, and what will people need and want in the future. This will help determine how much and what types of residential, workspace, leisure, education and healthcare facilities are needed. Getting this right will help ensure we are able to create vibrant and sustainable communities rather than just building more of the same. Our shopping centres need to consider their roles within the context of the town centre as a whole rather than turning their backs as many have done in the past.
How do we get the balance of housing right?
Firstly, we need to understand what different types of housing is required to satisfy the needs of existing and future residents. Most places are likely to require a mixture of different priced and types of accommodation that people can buy or rent. This is likely to include a range of flats, shared accommodation or houses that are suitable for singles, couples, families, students, young professionals, and retirees.
Getting the residential mix right will mean a broader mix of people will be living right on the doorstep of shops, cafes, restaurants, education, healthcare, and other cultural facilities. This will increase footfall throughout the day and evening which will in turn boost sales and therefore the local economy.
However, more people means more pressure on existing local infrastructure and services and this too needs to be part of the overall consideration. This might require upgrades to existing infrastructure or the building of new infrastructure as well as the provision of additional healthcare, education, and other facilities for residents.
Another challenge faced by many developers when adding residential to the mix is the affordable housing quotas demanded by the Local Authority without really assessing the housing needs of the whole town. It not quite as simple as having 70% of the space let to the private sector and 30% to social housing, the needs are likely to be more nuanced than that and perhaps the percentage is right but the makeup of the affordable element should be just that – housing that is affordable to a range of people that work and live in our towns e.g. Those that work in the public sector and young professionals or apprentices rather than being purely social housing. This will help towns attract or retain high skilled businesses and workers in sufficient numbers.
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