Promoting town and city centre vitality and viability

It is clear that town and city centres are changing. They are facing constant challenge. The media has headlines about the ‘death of the high street’, but we believe that there is a future for town and city centres, but only if they take action and act on the evidence now available. The Institute of Place Management can help initiate or take forward this process in your centre.

How town and city centres are changing

Town and city centres have seen an erosion of their share of retail expenditure for 40 years or more as first out of town retailing and now online retailing gave options to shoppers. Town and city centres attracted around 50% of retail expenditure in 2000 but according to the Centre for Retail Research, it is today less than 37%. Online retailing in the UK now accounts for about 18% of all retail expenditure and on some forecasts will reach 30% in ten years-time. This changing structure of retail is one of the reasons behind store rationalisation and closure that is seeing high streets lose many of their multiple retailers and store vacancies rise. All the data suggests these trends will continue.

Structural change in other sectors is also impacting town and city centres. Whilst the number of pubs reduces, coffee bars still increase. New leisure and fitness activities are being located in town and city centres, alongside flexible working space. As the population grows, there is greater demand for homes and especially for smaller homes. Lifestyles are changing as well, and most town and city centres have moved on from just a 9-5 existence and over the next decade we will see a revolution in our usage of cars.

As town and city centres have changed, many places have sought to respond. Town and City Centre Management, Town Teams, local partnerships and Business Improvement Districts have been widely established and there are many success stories, but the scale of change remains challenging and many locations are under-performing or at risk of failure. How can you determine what is best done in your centre?

Support from the Institute of Place Management

Over the past four years, we have led two major research studies on town and city centres in the UK. This included a review of the factors that influence town and city centre vitality and viability and the use of activity data to identify four UK town types. Our research has been undertaken in partnership with a number of UK towns and cities and has been designed to provide evidence-based practical support to individual locations. As part of the research, we have identified approaches that can benefit town and city centres as they seek to secure the vitality and viability of their centre.

We work exclusively with our members to support their work in town and city centres through the 3 Step Vitality and Viability Programme which is centred around a half day workshop. We have now run these in some 15 town and city centres and they have proved to be highly participative, engaging and successful in developing consensus in regards to actions and the way forward. The workshops are designed to inculcate an evidence-based collaborative approach in the centre.

Step 1: Analysis – review of the evidence about your town centre performance, assessment of the town centre, and discussion with the commissioning partners. This will take place in the fortnight before the workshop and feed information to support the workshop.

Step 2: Workshop – you invite stakeholders to attend a half-day workshop in a central location, we provide the expert team. The workshop will cover:

  • An up to date review of what is happening to town and city centres
  • The 25 local priority factors for vitality and viability (plus access to 176 others)
  • 4 town types and what this means for local initiatives
  • The 4 Rs of Regeneration – an introduction to the core concepts of centre regeneration
  • What is happening in your centre
  • Planning for the future – identifying priorities

Step 3: Report – we will prepare a short tailored report offering advice, information and recommendations for action.

The Vitality and Viability Programme is delivered by Institute of Place Management staff who were each directly involved in our town and city centre research programmes and who are experienced in working with town and city centre stakeholders.

Dr Steve Millington is a Director of Place Making at the Institute and Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was co-investigator on the High Street UK 2020 and the Bringing Big Data to Small Users research programmes, and has worked extensively with individual town and city centres.

Professor Cathy Parker is Chair of the Institute and Professor of Retail and Marketing Enterprise. She was the lead investigator on High Street UK 2020 and lead researcher on Bringing Big Data to Small Users project. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Place Management and Development, a recognised authority on retail in town and city centres and is widely published.

Simon Quin is a Visiting Professor and Director of Place Management at the Institute. He has worked with town centres for over 25 years, led our work with towns through the research projects, was Chief Executive of ATCM from 2004-2010, Town Centre Manager in Romford then Reading, and has served on the Boards of the International Downtown Association and Town Centre Management Europe.

Going forward

The Vitality and Viability Programme is available exclusively to members of the Institute of Place Management or The BID Foundation. The cost of the whole programme is £4,000 plus VAT. It is possible to only book the workshop session, which is available at a cost of £2,000 plus VAT.

The local host will be responsible for the provision of a room suitable for small group work and presentations, projection equipment and refreshments for those attending. You will also be responsible for identifying and inviting the stakeholders (typically 20 -50) but we will provide advice if required on this.

Want to know more and how to book a date? Email Simon Quin at