Government encourages high streets redesign
Following Living Streets' reaction to the lack of emphasis on good public realm in the Portas Review of the future of the high street, the government's response has encouraged towns to consider decluttering, wider pavements and shared space approaches 'to help improve air quality and reduce congestion, encouraging local shoppers back to the high street'.
The government also announced several new funding pots for communities, councils and Business Improvement Districts to stimulate business involvement in town centres and take the high street improvement agenda further. However, Portas' focus on making it easier to drive and park in town centres remains a central point, despite significant evidence that making parking easier will increase car use.
Living Streets' Chief Executive, Tony Armstrong, said:
"The continued emphasis on parking is disappointing - in practice it's very difficult to make that compatible with the welcome new focus on reducing car use and pollution. But it's encouraging to see the government acknowledging the quality of the walking environment as a key reason why people might choose to visit their town centres in preference to going out of town. Given the cost-effectiveness of investment in the walking environment, we hope to see councils, Town Teams and others taking advantage of the new support and providing more proof of what we all know from our own experience of the best town centres in the UK and Europe - that safe, attractive, enjoyable streets where people want to walk are crucial to creating town centres where people want to spend time."
The government also took the opportunity to annouce publicly their upcoming plans to consult on the rules for changing the use of local shops and services. Living Streets' supporters campaigned hard last year for communities' rights to protect their neighbourhoods and make sure they could easily walk to essential local lifelines like shops, banks and post offices. A particular problem that Living Streets highlighted was the fact that a range of premises including banks and pubs can be turned into betting shops without the need for planning permission. With Portas, the Local Government Association, the Mayor of London and several MPs all calling for reform, Living Streets is continuing to raise the point with government this year to ensure that communities get the walking-friendly neighbourhoods they deserve.