The role of city centres within UK city economies is not well understood. Beyond their traditionally accepted use as retail centres, city centres play a much more fundamental role in bringing people together to exchange ideas and information, as well as goods and services. In particular, city centres provide the agglomeration benefits attractive to the types of businesses and firms that increasingly drive national economic growth. And this is likely to become increasingly important as the UK economy continues to specialise in activities based on ideas and information.
In the UK, the performance of city centre economies has seen huge variation. Some have driven the overall jobs growth in the city, while others have lost jobs, leading to a ‘hollowing out’ of the city economy. These patterns mean that very different policy responses are required in different places to support the future growth of city centre economies. Cities with strong centres need to ensure that the costs of businesses locating in these already attractive areas do not outweigh the benefits. In cities with relatively weaker centres, the focus should be on concentrating and generating business activity there, ensuring it is an attractive place to live and do business, and is well connected to surrounding areas and their labour markets.
Building on previous work by Centre for Cities on the importance of city centre economies,1 this paper pulls together examples of policies used in cities from around the world to improve their city centres. The first section sets out the importance of city centre economies to the economic performance of cities as a whole and the second section presents case studies for five broad types of policy intervention.