How Local Authorities Are Shaping the Placemaking Sector

The term Placemaking means a lot of things to a lot of people – to some it’s about events and enlivenment strategies or creating opportunities for communities to come together. For others, its fundamentally about the design, accessibility and management of spaces.

Local Authorities have been a growing presence in the commercial property market for some time and are a driving force in the way spaces are designed, managed and marketed. Shopping centres often occupy large parts of towns and cities and taking control of them presents an opportunity for Councils to influence regenerations, making better places to create employment, drive residential interest, increase footfall and transform the community.

In 2015 – 2018 alone, local councils spent more than £800m on the purchases of town centres and shopping malls with the desire to make change and rejuvenate areas that may have experienced a decline.

In the first half of this year, local authorities completed five shopping centre acquisitions worth a combined total of £92million, including the Pentagon Centre and Rams Walk – that’s equivalent to 16% of market activity. According to Savills, there are still a further five ongoing and the business anticipates more to come with a similar figure to the £210million spent in 2018.

Councils are willing to apply long-term investment in the local area to drive sustainable development, create jobs and strengthen the economy – this is all about getting people to stay and shop local – driving footfall. Mark Williams, President of Revo said: “The private sector can’t take that long-term view because, in many struggling locations, the projects simply aren’t commercially viable. We need councils to kick start these developments, to help bridge the funding gap and bring private investors in.”

Just this month, Trafford Council agreed to take control of the Stamford Quarter in Altrincham. The 367,000 sq ft shopping centre already boasts some strong tenants such as Boots, River Island, Waterstones and H&M to name a few, however, there are areas which need reviving and now that the area is under council control, plans are expected to get moving!

Local councils benefit from a captive audience. Public consultations tend to benefit from high take-up, meaning the feedback is an accurate representation of the local community and the result is a development fit for purpose. It might be that one community is wanting a better retail mix, others may want to address car-parking facilities and some improved community spaces. Local councils can design and create a town centre which reflects the needs and wants of the local community, delivering a vibrant and accessible hub which people want to visit.

In February, Canterbury City Council acquired Whitefriars – one of the largest shopping centre deals on record – the council had already obtained 50% but bought out global fund manager, TH Real Estate’s 50% stake for £75m. Colin Carmichael, the councils chief executive said: “the shopping centre takes up such a large part of the city, owning it gives us the opportunity to influence the regeneration of the city in the future.”

Bracknell Town Centre is being transformed with the backing of Bracknell Forest Council. The plans included the launch of The Lexicon in 2017 and as part of the next phase, the council is reviewing the civic quarter, Market square and the southern gateway.

Castle Quay 2 in Banbury is being developed by Cherwell District Council. A massive part of this project is Lock29, a 30,000 sq ft space including food and drink vendors, a pop-up screening venue for ‘secret cinema clubs’, a bar and space for educational activities. Council leader, Barry Wood said: “We’re going to transform the middle of Banbury and use the canal which we’ve never utilised properly before.”

And Rochdale Borough Council is working hard to make Rochdale town centre a better place for shoppers, visitors and businesses. A massive part of the regeneration is Rochdale Riverside, a new 200,000 sq ft retail and leisure centre, with Next, M&S and Reel cinemas.

Local authorities across the UK are thoroughly supporting our town centres and shopping malls, reviving city centres and driving the retail market forwards!

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