I’m proud to release the London Assembly Planning Comittee’s new report The future of London’s town centres.
Town centres remain an integral part of Londoners’ daily lives. For all the doomsday statistics on rising vacancy rates and slumping footfall, people continue to value their local centre. Most retail spending still happens on the high street instead of out-of-town shopping centres or the internet. In London, town centres give us a sense of local identity that we would otherwise not have in such an enormous metropolis.
Yet every week seems to offer a new story of decline. Just last Tuesday research suggested town centres will take the brunt of the retail slump, with around 41% set to lose 27,638 stores in the next five years. Statistics like these only confirm what we see anyway – empty or boarded up shops, a limited and imbalanced range of shops and facilities, and a lack of pride in the appearance of a local area.
Town centres are struggling.
That’s why, as chair of the Assembly Planning Committee, I launched an investigation late last year into the future of London’s town centres. We asked the best and brightest for bold and futuristic visions of what London’s town centres can and should become.
These visions have gone into our report, which was released today. We argue that centres must reinvent themselves into new forms and functions if they are going to remain relevant and thrive.
Public services – libraries, educational facilities, post offices, GP surgeries – must return to town centres, where they can be important anchors bringing people to the high street. We call for town centres to experiment with new built environments, including adaptable spaces that are programmable and responsive to changing needs. We also call for, where and when appropriate, local authorities to consider policies of managed contraction in favour of a smaller but more vibrant retail core.
In addition to being a stand-alone document with recommendations to help town centres thrive, the report served as the Committee’s response to the consultation on the Mayor’s supplementary planning guidance on town centres.