It’s shutters down once again on our high streets and the impact of lockdown 3.0 on the retail sector is all too visible on our infrequent outings for “essential items”.
However, as the New Year brought further restrictions, the Government has flung out a lifeline to a number of flailing towns by awarding funding as part of the Future High Street Fund (FHSF). Thought up well before Covid-19, the FHSF’s £1bn pot was set up to support regeneration projects with investments in transport infrastructure and land assembly (including the densification of residential and workspace around high streets in place of under-used retail space to encourage vibrant community hubs). Local councils of the 15 successful recipient towns and cities (including Swindon and Sunderland who secured £25m each) are seeing the fund as a major regional boost in the recovery efforts.
One of the key aims of the FHSF initiative is to empower local leaders to unlock resources by collaborating with local stakeholders and private sector partnerships. The idea being that with this pooled ownership (authorities and private investors being both the planning regulators and sponsors of projects), strategies should be closer aligned, red tape greatly diminished and timescales vastly shortened. In order for the initiative to make a significant difference, local authorities will need to leverage the funds by really being proactive in driving the public-private partnership agenda, to capitalise on private resources, strategic planning and ambition.
Where authorities do successfully foster this public-private approach, previously un-investible vacant or struggling retail space may become commercially viable and present very interesting opportunities for developers and investors. Let’s hope it’s the catalyst needed to push forward the much needed re-invention of the high street.
The Future High Streets Fund will help areas bounce back through regeneration projects that level up opportunities and create jobs right across the country.