Local authorities need to be given more powers to grant planning permission, prevent land banking and encourage landlords to fill empty shops, according to a review published today, following research into the state of Britain’s high streets.

Kim Cassidy, Professor of Services Marketing at Edge Hill’s Business School is the sole full time academic representative on the team led by the former chief executive of Wickes, Iceland and Focus DIY, Bill Grimsey.

The review argues that greater devolution and stronger local leadership is needed to give high streets a renewed sense of purpose and identity.

Among the 25 recommendations in the review are also calls to replace business rates, create a Town Centre Commission to develop a 20-year strategy for local high streets, and accelerate ongoing digital transformation in smaller towns.

The review has also looked at the costs, financing and operating models of towns. It reveals many examples of best practice showing where there is political will and good local leadership, smart regeneration that embraces technology and recognises the challenges posed by an ageing demographic is possible.

The authors have proactively contacted key stakeholders of towns and cities to gather evidence and opinion, as well as understand what town/community plans already exist.

Kim’s academic research identifies issues which can positively inform retailing and has worked closely with the Economic and Social Research Council on this agenda. Her personal research focuses on customer engagement in retail.

She said: “I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity, as the sole full-time academic representative on the team, to make a contribution to this second review. My role has focused on synthesising the evidence submitted to the group, which showcases best practice in town centre management and innovation across the country.

“I’ve been particularly impressed by the enthusiastic response of town centre leaders to Bill’s ideas, and interested to see the variety of mechanisms being used to mobilise the energy and expertise of members of the community moving forward”.

In 2011, Mary Portas’ review of the High Street was published with a response from the Government the following year. The Grimsey Review followed in 2013, offering an alternative view to Government which sought to broaden the subject beyond shops, identifying the need to embrace technology and reinvent the high street as a community hub with a combination of goods and services.

Commenting on the second review, ‘retail tsar’ Bill Grimsey said there had been some progress since his original review – but not nearly enough.

“In our first review in 2013 we argued that there is no point clinging to a sentimental vision of the past and that we need to start planning for a bold new world. This is still very much the case and we need to look to the future,” he said. “What we have seen during our research this time is that some very good initiatives have been put in place up and down the country over the last five years. These need to be celebrated, but progress is too slow and the retail landscape is rapidly changing.

“Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks that are convenient and with free parking. They must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there – being interesting and engaging and altogether a compelling and great experience.

“There are, however, many barriers to progress including business rates, complex layers of government and the current fiscal environment,” he continued. “As a nation we must give every high street and town centre the best possible chance to flourish.”

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