New regional report highlights fresh hope and opportunity for Yorkshire and Humber towns

A new report from a Yorkshire and Humber planning and development consultancy lifts the lid on the state of the region’s town centres and funding driving regeneration and job creation.

The ‘Moving on up? Levelling up town centres across Northern England’ Insight report by Leeds firm Lichfields, comes at a time of ‘seismic’ change for local cities and towns.

The last 12 months have been challenging, says the report, as pandemic and lockdowns have had a huge impact on regional communities as working patterns have changed and social distancing measures continue to affect millions of people.

High street retailers also face significant challenges, notably the growth in online shopping, competition from out-of-town developments, the burden of disproportionate business rates, and changing consumer habits.

The report identifies how places such as Wakefield, Halifax, Rotherham, Barnsley, Grimsby and Scarborough are fighting back to meet the challenges and benefitting from a £522m funding package allocated to the region.

This includes £96m from the £830m Future High Streets Fund which is helping to deliver transformative change to struggling high streets, while £413m secured from the £3.6bn Towns Fund is seeing regional towns bringing forward imaginative proposals for economic growth.

A further £13m secured from the High Street Heritage Action Zones is fuelling economic, social and cultural recovery through the regeneration of historic town centre areas.

The report also covers six themes that are underpinning strategies to transform towns and pull in more people. Relocating health and well-being facilities closer to transport hubs generates much-needed footfall while more town centre-based education facilities create jobs, inject fresh life into vacant buildings and stimulate growth.

New tourism and heritage plans are also being developed to attract visitors keen to see the rich and diverse history of northern places, pumping millions of pounds in local economies.

Funding the development of space to accommodate new digital and creative industries and repurposing retail space as affordable and attractive living, is seen as critical to the future vibrancy and culture of towns and creating hundreds of new jobs. The report says ‘…maintaining a meaningful 24-hours population in town centres will…drive demand for services and facilities, which contribute to the vitality of the centres’.

As part of its research, the consultancy analysed over 100 funding bids, identifying important themes in the report that local authorities, planners and policy makers see as drivers of town centre regeneration and repurposing. This proactive approach is reflected in a package of funding streams that have seen a great deal of uptake across the region, says Lichfields.

Anna Turton, planning director at Lichfields Leeds office, said: “The challenges faced by our regional town centres are well-documented and there is no doubt they have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“However, there are many positives on the horizon and our research points to a strong, vibrant and successful future for those northern towns that take advantage of the funding streams and pursue exciting and innovative strategies designed to transform the heart and soul of our high streets.”

A copy of the ‘Moving on up? Levelling up town centres across Northern England’ report is available at https://lichfields.uk/media/6467/moving-on-up_levelling-up-town-centres-across-northern-england.pdf

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