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District councils need more powers and flexibilities to transform high streets, MPs told

Houses of Parliament and Portcullis House from Westminster Bridge

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, heard that local leadership has never been more important in ensuring high streets remain vital and viable in the face of changing shopping patterns.

The APPG meeting was told that district councils are best placed to convene retailers, the public realm and landlords to get high streets back on their feet and ready for the future. It heard that high streets have similar problems but individual solutions and delivering the change needed will require districts to combine their place shaping powers, entrepreneurial nature and granular local knowledge to deliver thriving hubs that communities can enjoy for years to come.

Parliamentarians at the APPG also heard from Jackie Sadek of the Grimsey Review team, who said that footfall has increased in towns that had explored community solutions for their town centres, such as increasing residential use, adding live events to extend the trading day run and prioritising experience based trade.

The group also heard from MHCLG Deputy Director, Rachel Fisher, with an update on the High Streets Fund which challenges districts to put forward ambitious plans for areas to form a bid for the £675 million fund.

However, MPs were told that extra funding on its own was not enough to tackle the high streets crisis. With the High Streets Fund heavily oversubscribed, government was told it must look further at flexibilities to empower all districts to deliver the transformative change needed. Given the varying challenges town centres face, the APPG discussed a range of measures that it urges government to explore, including strengthening compulsory purchase order powers, allowing local taxation and reconsidering the extension of permitted development rights.

Mark Pawsey MP, Chair of the APPG for District Councils, said:

District councils have an unrivalled understanding of the local communities and economies that they serve. As the planning and housing authorities for 67 per cent of England by area, district councils provide the right environment for economic growth and are best placed to support businesses to flourish within town centres.

“This is why the APPG for District Councils is calling on the Government to give district councils the flexibility and freedom to be innovative in identifying appropriate solutions for the specific needs and opportunities in the areas they serve.”

District Councils’ Network Chairman Cllr John Fuller said:

“District councils are the leaders of change and are best placed to shape the towns of tomorrow by growing the national economy one local economy at a time.

“High streets need strong local leadership to remain relevant and grow in the face of changing shopping patterns. Districts are already grasping the nettle and responding proactively to the changing face of our high streets but we could do even more with the right measures in place.”

CONTACT: DCN media office, 020 7664 3333