Beyond the High Streets: Policy has been very active in attempting to guide development in our cities.
Initiatives such as Town Centre First and Enterprise Zones have had the specific aim of attracting economic activity to particular parts of cities. The problem is that these policies have contradicted each other. What’s more, those policies working against city centres appear to have had a much larger impact than those working for them.
Policies that have attempted to support town and city centres have focused on High Street retail. The formal introduction of Town Centre First in 1996 has been mainly applied with respect to the location of retailers. And retail led regeneration, by its very definition, attempted to use retail as the key method of kick starting growth in the city centres of many of our cities.
Policies that have inadvertently worked against city centres have focused on jobs. Enterprise zones, the subsidisation of business parks and the location of public sector administrative functions and universities in out of town locations have all contributed to increasing the share of jobs that are not in the city centres of many of our cities.
The geography of jobs in Sheffield and Swansea show the impact that enterprise zones have had on their economies. In both cities former enterprise zones account for a considerable share of private sector jobs. In Sheffield, almost 8 per cent of private sector jobs are located in this area (compared to 10 per cent in the city centre), while in Swansea one in four private sector jobs are in the area containing its former enterprise zone (compared to 18 per cent in the city centre). These jobs aren’t just in manufacturing businesses that would be less suited to a city centre location- in Swansea, 43 per cent of jobs in the area containing the enterprise zone were in retail and KIBS industries in 2011, while in Sheffield this figure was 46 per cent.
The geography of private sector jobs in Sheffield and Swansea, 2011
Source: ONS 2013, Business Structure Database
So on one hand policy has tried to concentrate retail activity in city centres, but on the other has implemented policies that have pulled the potential customers for those retailers out of city centres, reducing the size of the market that they can sell to. The direct contradiction of the two types of policy shows the lack of understanding of the economics of the High Street and the economic geography of cities.
Policies to support economic growth in city centres need to focus on jobs not shops. This means ending the narrow focus on High Streets. And it also means ending the subsidisation of business space in out of town locations. Beyond the High Street sets out detailed policy recommendations as to how to support economic growth within our city centres.
Previous blog in the series: Beyond the High Street: City centres and the post industrial economy
Next blog in the series: Beyond the High Street: Engines of growth
See the full report: Beyond the High Street
Director of Policy and Researchp.firstname.lastname@example.org
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