ATCM issues call to action

ATCM Issues Call to Action
The Association of Town & City Management (ATCM) has called for more government action to stimulate high streets and town centres across the country.

While ATCM Chief Executive Martin Blackwell says Business Secretary Vince Cable is right in saying that what is happening in the retail sector is partly lack of demand, he believes there is more than a “modest” role to be played by ministers.

The ATCM, formerly known as the Association of Town Centre Management, has worked with High Streets and Town and City Centres for over 20 years, researching, developing and helping to implement improvements across the UK and further afield.

“We are seeing unprecedented, rapid change brought about by the combination of a financial crisis and changing behaviour brought about by technological change,” he said, agreeing with Cable’s other main reason for problems on the High Street. “But much more can and should be done.

“To a large extent, we know what needs to be done, as our Manifesto for Town Centres and High Streets and other freely available research for the High Street shows. Some of these actions are being implemented and the positive results where they are being implemented are role models for the rest of the country.”

The ATCM was instrumental in the creation of Business Improvement Districts, where rates payers themselves determine what they would like to see done to improve conditions and then vote for ring-fenced additional payments to bring these ideas to fruition. It is a model that is being adopted by more and more localities, including with Government providing funds to support BID development, in what could now be called ‘localism.’

“But we’ve done a lot more than that,” Blackwell continued. “Two decades ago the biggest threat to town centres was the burgeoning numbers of edge of town and out of town megalithic shopping centres and super stores. Along with others, we worked tirelessly to create a ‘Town Centres First’ policy that slowed down and in many instances stopped this mad dash for shoppers’ cash at any cost. But there is still more to do.

“Early last year we called for sweeping changes to business rates, car parking policies, planning and property law.

“Our 10-point Manifesto for Town Centres and High Streets encourages support for management of the UK’s traditional shopping, entertainment, cultural, public service and transport hubs and calls for plan-led approaches to economic development that include statutory town centre strategies and are developed through partnerships with businesses, landlords, developers, local communities and consumers of the full range of town centre services.

“Since September of last year, and with government backing, we have been providing support to over 300 towns and cities across England to develop Mary Portas’s idea of “Town Teams,” groups driven by local people with local concerns about saving the hearts of their own communities,” he added. The Department of Communities and Local Government has provided up to £100,000 for 24 of the 27 Portas Pilots (the other three are receiving money from the Mayor of London) and each Town Team has received £10,000 in addition to our support.

This work is in addition to working with close to 600 town and city centre management schemes where partnership approaches, says Blackwell, have generated professionalism in the management of public spaces, something that privately owned shopping centres have been doing successfully – sometimes to the detriment of the rest of their locales – for a long time.

However, there are huge structural difficulties in bringing together private sector landlords (many of whom can’t be easily identified under current practice), retailers, councils, community groups, residents, transport providers and all the other people and businesses who have an interest in the success of town centres.

“We must demand more from some parts of Government, which can reflect the less than helpful or even common sense attitude that Vince Cable exhibited when he suggested it wasn’t government’s role to save the high street.

“It requires action on Business Rates and on Business Rates appeals, updates to the 1954 Landlords & Tenants Act, a better appreciation of the relationship between car parking charges and town centre vitality, a more up-to-date method for measuring how town centres are used and a host of other actions – none of which can wait if we are not to see more job losses, cavernous gaps in town centre facades and loss of community spirit – the very opposite of the Government’s own oft-repeated calls for more localism.”

The ATCM has published “100 Ways to Help the High Street,” guides for new Town Centre Managers, a new website for Town Teams (www.townteams.org) and  the Manifesto plus much more that can all be found on its website, www.atcm.org.

Many of these documents are free – the ATCM is a not-for-profit organisation – and many more are free to people and organisations who join.

“Managing town centres isn’t simply about supporting retail,” says Blackwell. “We are leading the way in creating better managed town and city centres during the post-5pm hours, through our Purple Flag initiative and Night time Economy studies. The After Five economy is worth £60 billion a year and employs 1.2 million people.  And we now have a strong evidence base that managed towns perform better in the evenings as well as during the daytime than towns without our professional approach.

“If the character and nature of town centres is going to change it must be in a way that allows local entrepreneurs a way in, with the costs of starting up coming down, and recognition of the 24 hour nature of successful places.

“So we welcome the call for a debate. And even more, a call to action.”

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