Future Retail City Centre

In 2017-18, IPM researchers and members were involved in a transnational project to identify and illustrate the factors that underpin successful collective interventions aimed at ’future-proofing’ town and city centres.  The project, led by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and funded by ShoppingTomorrow (a national research and action program initiated by the major trade associations in retailing and consumer services in the Netherlands), analysed a variety of different types of interventions in 21 towns and cities across the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK to identify best practice. 

The resulting report (published in Dutch, and available here) was launched at an event in Amsterdam in March 2018, but now an abridged English language version featuring nine cases, which describe a variety of different types of interventions aimed at ‘future-proofing’ town and city centres, is available here. The case study towns/cities discussed in the report are Altrincham, Ballymena, Chipping Norton and Holmfirth from the UK; Aalst and Mechelen in Belgium; and Tilburg, Arnhem and Winschoten in The Netherlands.

The report suggests that the types of ‘future-proofing’ activities chosen by Urban Management Partnerships within towns and cities will in part depend on the development phase of these partnerships, described in terms of: Phase 1, Create sense of urgency; Phase 2, Establish collaboration; Phase 3, Develop strategy and interventions; Phase 4, Implement interventions; and Phase 5, Evaluation and course determination.

Then, drawing on the 201 factors influencing town centre vitality and viability identified by the IPM as part of the High Street 2020 project, the ShoppingTomorrow expert group for this initiative identified seven types of interventions that are applicable to town and city centres: 

  1. Spatial: e.g. improvement of accessibility, parking facilities, etc.
  2. Policy and legislation: e.g. regulatory reform, zoning plans, etc.
  3. Branding: including brand strategy, atmosphere areas, etc.
  4. Organization of the partnership: e.g. promoting cooperation
  5. Marketing: including events, loyalty card, smart parking, etc.
  6. Financial: e.g. rent reduction, location premiums, etc.
  7. Training entrepreneurs: including improving digital skills of entrepreneurs

The report concludes by outlining some critical success factors that need to be considered by those urban management partnerships that look to plan and implement effective interventions to ‘future-proof’ town and city centres:

  • Make sure there is a strong team that leads the way forward
  • Much can be achieved with little or no budget, but structural financing is a foundation for a sustainable partnership
  • The importance of effective, committed and reliable (local) government
  • Take your time to create and maintain the local support base
  • Be innovative and proactively approach media outlets
  • Invest in doing research
  • Seek cooperation with knowledge institutions