Community town centres

Think tank: Centre for London

Author(s): Joe Wills; Claire Harding

May 26, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Centre for London looks at London’s town centres and high streets.

Town centres are at the heart of London’s communities, with more than a third of Londoners living within 200 metres of a high street. Yet many of our high streets have been on life support for years, as shops have closed and online sales have grown. Coronavirus has accelerated this trend. High streets dominated by retail may be thing of the past. So where do we go from here? This report highlights increasing momentum behind the idea that communities must play a meaningful role in shaping their local centres. If shops close down, the people who use our high streets every day are best placed to decide what should happen to them. To make this work, we will need to address structural problems like high and inflexible rents, fragmented property ownership and proposed planning reforms. Specific governance models which guarantee a seat at the table for communities, such as ‘Community Improvement Districts’, might work for some places – but there is no one size fits all, and getting the values right is often more important than getting the governance model right. This report sets out practical guidance for people who want to start up or build on community involvement with their town centre. It also makes recommendations for national and local government on how to make this happen in more places.