That is the warning from a major new report, published by Centre for Cities today (10 September 2013), which urges a transformation of the public debate surrounding UK city centres.
The report, Beyond the High Street: Why our city centres really matter, shows that the city centres of our largest cities are increasingly the location of choice for business. Eight of our 10 largest cities have seen their city centres become more important in recent years as places of employment. In Leeds, for example, half of all private sector jobs growth occurred in its city centre between 1998 and 2008, while three quarters of all jobs growth in Glasgow took place in its city centre.
But in our small and medium sized cities, it’s the out of town sites that are the preferred location for business – their city centres have been playing an ever smaller role in their local economies. One third of our cities have been ‘hollowing out’, with their city centres losing jobs while out of town sites have seen growth.
It’s this element of the debate – the location of jobs – that commentators have ignored. And yet it is one of the most important to the future of the High Street.
Sluggish retail is only a symptom of a struggling city centre, not the primary cause of it. Workers, as well as residents and day trippers, make a big contribution to footfall on our high streets. However, if their jobs are not located within city centres, then workers are less likely to spend their money on the High Street during the week.
Cities need to fix their city centre economies to make them places that businesses want to locate to. By doing this they will increase the number of customers that retailers can sell to. And this will improve the fortunes of High Street retail as a result.
To support this, Government needs to prioritise city centres in its National Infrastructure Plan, ensuring the needs of individual places are at the heart of investment decisions in the future.
To fund this, Centre for Cities is calling for Government to allocate a portion of the £3bn expected to be underspent on infrastructure investment ahead of 2015 to a newCity Centre Growth Fund, aimed directly at addressing the physical and digital infrastructure investments required to support business growth within UK city centres in the years ahead.
Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities said:
“City Centres are vital for the health of the UK economy, with our most successful city centre economies being the most productive parts of the national economy.
“But this isn’t universal across all city centres, and many could have a bleak outlook unless policies stop focusing on the 20th century High Street, and start thinking about a 21st century city centre.
“While retail is clearly important for the health of our high streets, it is just one part of city centre success. Thriving city centres have to be places in which people can work, as well as live, play and shop – and that means thinking more broadly about jobs and business growth.
“If cities continue to hollow out, they will not be able to provide the right kind of city centre environment to attract and retain the businesses that will support their economy in the future. The Government and cities must act now to address this critical problem.”
For further information or to request an interview, please contact:
Rachel Morrisroe, Senior External Affairs Manager at Centre for Cities on 0207 803 4316 / 07748 183 026 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Ben Harrison, Director of Partnerships at Centre for Cities on 0207 803 4315 / 07850 449 819 /email@example.com
Notes to Editors:
Press and External Affairs Officer