Local authorities must allow more flexible policies if London’s town centres are to survive the seismic shift to out-of-town and online shopping, the London Assembly heard yesterday.
At a meeting of the Assembly’s Planning Committee, Dr Steve Norris, a planning expert at Strategic Perspectives, warned that the demise of HMV was the latest example of the death of the old-fashioned high street. Instead of concentrating on large retail units, he called on councils to understand and work with the unique identity of their town centres.
David West, an expert from Studio Egret West, highlighted the value of residential development to bring people into the town centre and the London Borough of Croydon pointed to its plans to increase the amount of housing in Croydon town centre. West also called for a looser definition of the town centre, warning that we should not expect to "freeze the high street in aspic".
Nicky Gavron AM, Chair of the Planning Committee, said:
"Closures of beloved high street chains like HMV and Jessops bring the problem to the forefront. The Planning Committee heard that greater flexibility and freedom will allow town centres to thrive. Our centres must diversify their offering beyond retail to provide services and facilities local people need and want.
“London's town centres are important as the focus of their local communities. They are all different and many have serious problems including high vacancy rates. There is clearly no ‘one size fits all’ solution and our investigation will be looking at the ways different centres can adapt and evolve, providing the range of services local people want and adding to their quality of life."
The meeting was the second of two dedicated to how the Mayor and local councils can use planning and other mechanisms to help town centres thrive in the 21st century. The Committee is taking evidence from a wide spectrum of commercial, academic and local government experts and expects to publish a report this spring.
Notes for Editors:
- Watch a webcast of the meeting and find out more about the investigation.
- Meetings of the Planning Committee
- The Chair of the Planning Committee, Nicky Gavron AM, is available for interview. See contact details below.
- As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.
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