New Strand Bootle 2
The redevelopment of the Strand in Bootle is one of the town centre projects backed by the Combined Authority

LCR report sets out town centres wish list

Neil Tague

Birkenhead, Huyton, Runcorn, Southport and St Helens are among places earmarked for future investment in the Liverpool City Region Town Centres Commission’s final report, which asks for Government support to kickstart post-Covid recovery.

The commission was set up by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Last January. Metro mayor Steve Rotheram said this week: “Town centres and high streets are at the heart of our communities, providing a hub for people to meet, shop and socialise but sadly too many have seen better days.

“Locally, we’ve been investing in both the present and future of town centres. We’ve put tens of millions of pounds into town centres across the region from New Ferry and Bootle, to Kirkby and Southport. I launched [this] town centre fund to help empower local councils to build the capacity to develop ambitious plans to invest in the regeneration of their high streets.”

In addition to five headline recommendations for LCR itself, stemming mostly from the recommendation it now convenes a Town Centres Covid-19 Recovery Group, the report sets out a list of asks to Government, including:

  • Increased control for local authorities over traffic management, including temporary crossings, and a pot of funding for programmes such as extending pavements and closing roads to spur economic recovery
  • Combined authorities to be given fare-setting and timetabling power over public transport
  • A moratorium on the loss of publicly-accessible space for development, for as long as social distancing is in place
  • Support for hospitality businesses, including a stock-buying grant scheme
  • Use-class flexibility for town centre businesses to allow flexibility during periods of enforced reduced activity
  • Government should allow local authorities to co-opt vacant retail space for use in areas suh as training.

The commission has set out a list of 23 recommendations in the full report, under three group headings: Anchor, Belong and Connect, each of these being a role a successful town centre must fulfil, according to the report’s authors, the northern office of think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.

While much of what comes under these headings comes as no surprise, such as more flexible planning around pop-up spaces, and securing capital funding from Government programmes such as the Towns Fund, the report makes additional suggestions, such as making the case the direct investment in skills as part of such capital bids.

Some of the more significant points come under the Connect heading, with the suggestion that health & wellbeing be incorporated into core planning policies by local authorities. It is also suggested the Combined Authority takes a co-ordinating role in helping secure vacant spaces for healthcare uses and for start-ups in the healthcare sector.

The commission has 11 members, representing civic and business leadership roles across the city region, and met six times throughout 2020. After initially looking at 16 town centres and Liverpool city centre, it then focused on five: Birkenhead, Huyton, Runcorn, Southport and St Helens. It was noted that research showed a particular pride in Birkenhead’s volume of socially-owned businesses. The Wirral town was named recently as a winning bidder for Future High Streets fund support.

Town centre projects that LCR has committed investment to, as outlined by Rotheram, include the redevelopment of Bootle’s Strand shopping centre, along with the overhaul of Kirkby town centre, to which LCR promised a further £2.8m in December.

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