David Cowans, Chief Executive, Places for People Group, discusses new visions for town centres and the opportunity to create inclusive communities.
The pandemic has accelerated trends which were already having an impact on our town centres. With the pace of change now increasing rapidly, it’s time to give serious thought to how we can develop a new vision for the high street and the positive impact this could have on local communities.
To ensure a community thrives, infrastructure and new housing must go hand in hand. Homes that are supported by tailored facilities make lives easier and more fulfilling, helping to attract and retain people that will make towns prosper.
However, delivering infrastructure from scratch can be challenging and requires significant investment. Town centres, which already have many facilities and amenities in place, such as transport and leisure services, already offer a solid platform for new housing.
The potential for town centres to offer a broad mix of amenities and homes also provides more options for people who want to move home, yet stay in the neighbourhood – a concept that is at the heart of creating cohesive communities. And a more considered approach that mixes community facilities with workspaces, retail, food and beverage could play a key role in bringing together people of different ages and interests.
From our own extensive research, we know that access to infrastructure continues to be important to people when considering moving into a new home.
Last year, we carried out a survey involving 12,000 members of the public to establish what our potential and existing customers in different target segments want from their next home. The research used conjoint analysis methodology to draw out the customers’ underlying need as opposed to their view on what they would ideally choose.
The results revealed that regardless of people’s age, circumstances, or tenure of their home, they want to live within walking distance to public transport and be close to public services as well as amenities. Respondents also signalled a strong desire to live in a place with a ‘village feel’, whether this is a village, the suburbs or a town.
In addition, the research highlighted that places and homes must evolve so they can adapt and continue to fulfil the needs of future generations.
If the right infrastructure is combined with high-quality homes offering more choice, there is the potential to better meet people’s needs and how they want to live – rather than just work or shop.
Long term, this could result in housing for people of all ages in town centres, enabling younger and older people to live together in well-connected communities. As residential populations increase, this would also drive new day and night-time economies.
Repurposing town centres won’t be without its challenges. It will require bold and creative planning decisions and a long-term commitment by developers and housing providers to help trigger further investment and create a sense of community.
It will also require new approaches to management as more housing will result in mixed use and mixed tenures within the same neighbourhood. Developers and housing providers will need to have specialist skills and resources in place to manage these new communities and local authorities will also have a role to play.
At Places for People, we already provide property management services across a broad spectrum of properties and tenures, managing more than 200,000 homes, commercial properties and estates. We are continuing to develop our management platform that enables our Group to effectively manage mixed tenure places.
To help prepare for future change, we are keen to meet other businesses doing the same, so we can work together to develop this model and deliver the shift in management that will be required to make town centres work for everyone.
A New Vision
Although changing town centres may be unsettling for some, the untapped potential to create new homes and inclusive communities can’t be ignored. By thinking differently and taking advantage of existing infrastructure, there is an opportunity to create thriving places where people of all ages and backgrounds can live fulfilling lives.