The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating change that was already evident across towns and cities, reducing retail space and prompting major shifts in office use in their current state.
The collapse of large retailers such as Arcadia and Debenhams has sparked further concerns about the high street and how many will be able to survive.
lthough the impact of Covid-19 paints a bleak picture, there is an opportunity for positive change. By rethinking the purpose of our town centres, there is the potential to create sustainable mixed-use places that are fit for the future.
Infrastructure and housing must go hand in hand
To ensure a community thrives, infrastructure and new housing must go hand in hand. Homes that are supported by tailored facilities make lives easier and more fulfilling, helping to attract and retain people that will make towns prosper. That’s why at Places for People, we work to put the right infrastructure in place alongside building new homes at scale.
However, delivering infrastructure from scratch can be challenging and requires significant investment. Town centres, which already have many facilities and amenities in place, such as transport and leisure services, already offer a solid platform for new housing.
From our own extensive research, we also know that access to infrastructure continues to be important to people when considering moving into a new home.
Last year, we carried out a survey involving 12,000 members of the public to establish what our potential and existing customers in different target segments want from their next home.
The results revealed that regardless of people’s age, circumstances, or tenure of their home, they want to live within walking distance to public transport and be close to public services as well as amenities. Respondents also revealed a strong desire to live in a place with a ‘village feel’, whether this is a village, the suburbs or a town.
If the right infrastructure is combined with high-quality homes offering more choice, there is the potential to better meet people’s needs and how they want to live – rather than just work or shop.
Long-term, this could result in housing for people of all ages in town centres, enabling younger and older people to live together in well-connected communities. As residential populations increase, this would also drive new day and night-time economies, which in turn, could have a positive environmental impact, reducing the need for travel.
Make town centres work for everyone
Repurposing town centres won’t be without its challenges. It will require bold and creative planning decisions and a long-term commitment by developers and housing providers to help trigger further investment and create a sense of community.
It will also require new approaches to management as more housing will result in mixed-use and mixed tenures within the same neighbourhood. Developers and housing providers will need to have specialist skills and resources in place to manage these new communities and local authorities will also have a role to play.
At Places for People, we already provide property management services across a broad spectrum of properties and tenures, managing more than 200,000 homes, commercial properties and estates. We are continuing to develop our management platform that enables our Group to effectively manage mixed tenure places.
To help prepare for future change, we are keen to meet other businesses doing the same, so we can work together to develop this model and deliver the shift in management that will be required to make town centres work for everyone.
Giving people access to more green space
Another key consideration is outdoor space – a factor which is considered one of the most important when choosing a new home, according to our research.
New homes can’t be built at the expense of reducing existing green spaces and in many areas, there is a strong argument for increasing it where possible. Although that may appear commercially challenging, from our experience, places with more green space will increase in value and be more effective over the long term.
That’s why we are planning to restore former agricultural land to open countryside as part of our proposals for Gilston Park in Hertfordshire and we are proposing two country parks as well as three community parks offering sporting facilities and opportunities for people to meet.
Reimagining our high streets
The pandemic has accelerated trends which were already having an impact on our town centres. With the pace of change now increasing rapidly, it’s time to give serious thought to how we can develop a new vision for the high street.
Although changing town centres may be unsettling for some, the untapped potential to create new homes and thriving communities can’t be ignored. By thinking differently and taking advantage of existing infrastructure, there is an opportunity to create thriving places that will enable people of all ages to live fulfilling lives in their own neighbourhood.
This post was first featured in NLA on 4 March 2021.