Using the Sustainable Communities Act

An update from Local Works

Following two years of campaigning, the government have made regulations that give town and parish councils the right to submit proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act.

This is a real ‘game changer’ for the Act: citizens and community groups can now submit proposals for specific actions from government to help their communities, local economies and the environment via their town or parish council as well as via their local authority. We expect to see a lot more proposals coming forward.

On Thursday 21st November Local Works are holding a public meeting in East London as part of their ongoing work to tell people and councils all about the Act and help them use it.

Anyone interested in East London can attend.

Details are as follows:

Thursday 21st November, 7pm to 9pm

Venue: Hackney CVS, 84 Springfield House, 5 Tyssen Street, London E8 2LY

Chair: Aimee Brannen, News Editor, Islington and Hackney Gazettes

Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor of Hackney Council
Shanaz Khan, Chair, East Trades Guild
Michael Calderbank, Sustainable Hackney
Steve Shaw, Local Works, National Co-ordinator

There will be free food and drink!

Out-of-town town – Plaza Mayor

I have just come back from Malaga, Spain and this is a picture of Plaza Mayor. A typical Spanish streetscape? Look closely, and things are not quite what they seem. There are no actual windows at first floor level. The recess in the window frame has been painted to look like a window. Likewise, the life-size horses and cows dotted around are not real. That’s a real clue that Plaza Mayor is a fake. I am a regular visitor to Spain and have never seen horses and cows wandering around freely in town centres.

Plaza Mayor comes complete with plazas, fountains and orange trees but devoid of local businesses, people (rather than shoppers), or the 200 years of history the architecture initially suggests.

Instead, Plaza Mayor has just over 10 years history as an out-of-town retail and leisure centre built to look like a small Andalusian town.

Like some other towns, its leisure offer is separate to its main retail offer. This was added in 2008 and, I guess, built far enough away from the original centre so as to avoid any disruption to existing trading by the construction works.

So, as the photo below demonstrates – Plaza Mayor’s plaza mayor (main square) is now a 1100 space car-park.

This may be quite an apt development and one that shows that even fake towns suffer the same forces of change as real ones.

At 8am yesterday morning there were plenty of cars in the car-park before the centre was even open. With all that free parking and being next to a railway station on a commuter line to Malaga (it takes 20 minutes) it is obviously playing an important role for local people, as the original marketing literature said it would, but I suspect transport interchange was not what the developers were thinking.

At 8pm the evening before the centre was busier – but certainly not attracting the 20,000+ visitors per day it was when it opened in 2002. Interestingly, the addition of more retail in 2008 is housed in a more ‘traditional’ development – in terms of looking more like a run-of-the mill shopping mall. It seems to be doing well as the only vacant units are in the leisure half. At 9pm there were shoppers in the retail half – but many of the restaurants and bars in the leisure half were empty.

I may be just one of the 10,000,000 tourists to the area who prefers the reality of Malaga, Torremolinos or Marbella to the hyper (or hypo) reality of Plaza Mayor. An out-of-town town just isn’t the same.


Portas Pilots – One Year On

There’s been a lot in the news this week about the Portas Pilots – so here is a round up and my view on some of the key issues that have been discussed.

Why have the Portas towns got high retail vacancy rates?

There are some forces of change that work on a national or even international level, affecting all town centres, such as the recession – people have less money to spend and e-commerce – more of people’s spend takes place on-line.

Then there are factors that impact on individual town centres, such as the size of the catchment – whether more or less people are living in the area, how many people work in the town centre, the retail and service offer, for example comparison or non-food retailing has suffered the most in the recession, food and service business have done better.

Other factors include its location (northern towns have higher vacancy rates than those in the south), size (small centres are more resilient than large) and their accessibility or the ease with which people can travel to other competing centres.

In the case of the Portas towns, what is more important is the long term vacancy rate. For example, pre-recession Stockport’s vacancy rate was 12.7% compared to a national average of 10.3% A long-term vacancy rate higher than the national average indicates a long-term problem, and in most cases, an over supply of retail floorspace.

Whilst the Town Teams can get behind the existing retail, this is difficult if it is spread all over town. A strategic approach to concentrating retail into the right-sized centre is also necessary.

Have the Portas Pilots got high churn rates?

In a word – no. You could not pick out a Portas Pilot accurately on the basis of the number of shops opening and closing in its centre. Croydon has the highest churn rate – but then it probably had the highest concentration of multiple retailers, and due to the amount that closed last year (HMV, Comet, Clinton Cards, JJB Sports, Blockbuster, and Thomas Cook etc.) it’s not surprising they have more of their share of 4,000 empty shops to fill.

As Croydon is in the more affluent south, then retailers are likely to be more attracted to relocate there, rather than Nelson in the poorer North.

Churn rates are higher everywhere.
There has been a dramatic fall in the length of leases on commercial properties over the past five years. Before the recession, the average length of a high street lease was 10 years. There’s no doubt the economic climate has meant property owners have had to offer more flexible lease arrangements –a third of high street leases are now less than 5 years.

So, retailers can relocate to more profitable locations – areas with higher footfall – or larger, more efficient retail space, more easily. In other words they are not so ‘trapped’ in locations, which previously kept the churn rate down.

Also, with shorter term and pop-up leases, rent and rate relief, more independent retailers are being attracted into premises that would not have been feasible for them before. However, like other small business, their failure rate is high. A small shop has about a 40% chance of being in business 5 years after opening.

In a survey we did of 600 small retailers in the UK less than a quarter had a business plan, many of them had no previous retail experience and did not invest in training. We found a significant relationship with having a business plan the number of years the shop was in business and turnover.

Without a business plan and some grounding in retaiing, new entrants may be making the wrong location decisions – based upon supply side factor considerations like the price of the unit, rather than whether there is real market demand for their offer and whether the shop is in a location that attracts enough footfall.

How can the Town Teams increase footfall?

In the short term – by making the most of the space and the assets they have. Markets, vintage fairs, festivals, promoting existing retailers through guides, websites etc. Free or cheap parking on its own will not encourage people to the centre if what they want isn’t there, if there is nothing to attract them, if they can’t find it – or the town is dirty or feels unsafe.

But longer term, towns need to have an offer that meets the needs of their users. Retail and consumer data should be used to undertake an analysis of the retail area and work out what is missing and what sort of businesses would do well. Small in-town or edge-of-town supermarkets are associated with lower vacancy rates. Towns should actively encourage certain types of retailer – by going to other locations and seeing what is missing and who they could attract. If a town doesn’t want a supermarket then it should consider options like a local food market.

Towns will need to accept that retail floorspace has to shrink by between 20-40% and should help surviving retail outlets concentrate in the same part of town. This is the strategic stuff that needs some vision and leadership. Towns should be thinking about what the other space can be used for, in terms of uses that will bring more people into the town centre; offices, education, sheltered housing… in the next 10 years over 12.4 million people will be over 64 so more people will need live near to locally accessibly shops and services as they may not be mobile enough to travel to shop or visit their GP.

How can the towns improve their image?

There’s been a lot of investment by towns and cities into rebranding. But behind every good brand you have to have a good product, so there’s no shortcut to the investment and effort needed in terms of getting the place product right.

However, place perceptions can offer lag behind reality – and if a town has a poor image it can take a long time to change that. Place ‘ambassadors’ should be engaged; these could be the local press or key stakeholders like local retailers, for example. Basically, people that can and are willing to ‘talk-up’ the town.

A rebranding exercise can be useful, if it is thought of as the ‘organising principle’ for integrating measures (e.g. events, media relations, residents’ participation). But it needs to capture the place’s distinctiveness and shouldn’t just be a trite slogan – like “open for business”. What town wouldn’t be open for business?

What’s all this about the night-time economy?

Reports by the Local Government Association show that the public and council offers are concerned about the proliferation of sex shops, betting shops and food take away outlets. But if a property is empty landlords will want to fill it. The problem is the landlord is very unlikely to live in the town that seemingly becomes plagued with late-night bars and take-aways etc.

Councils can stop operators by using licensing restrictions, but they may well be challenged – and this is expensive at a time when they have no cash. Splitting the economy into day and night isn’t very helpful. The economy should be seen as a whole – if a late-night takeaway causes a litter problem that puts people off using the town in the day then the net effect on the economy may be negative.

What sort of retailers are doing well?

Well it is not all doom and gloom on the high street. Primark has seen its sales shoot up 24% in the last 6 months (to March 2013). Unlike other retailers, it is not going on-line as it is concentrating on growth in its existing market and profitability from improving retail operational efficiency. So, for example, it is expanding the sales floor area in shops so it can sell even more.

Even though there is a decline in comparison retail (electricals, toys etc.) Argos has seen its sales grow by 3% because of its successful click and collect service. Whilst consumers like the convenience of shopping on-line, the delivery aspect can be very inconvenient – so the ability to order something and know you can pick it up is very compelling. Likewise, John Lewis and Waitrose have seen big growth in click and collect sales.

And lastly, footfall in towns that participated in last years ‘Love your Local Market’ increased by 4% (against a backdrop of 6% decline). There is a growth of the Totally Locally movement, and after the horsemeat and other scandals, more people want to know where their food comes from, and smaller food retail businesses can offer this more personal connection with the supply chain and this reassurance.

So, one year on – the same questions are being asked and answered – this is worrying as we need to move on to real action if we want to support our towns and high streets to change so they have a sustainable role in the future.

Transport decision making and representative bureaucracy

A friend of mine at university had his own plane (!) and flew to Teesside airport for the start of term in 1992. This was on a Wednesday. He was told he would have to wait till Sunday to get a train. Incidentally, the bus takes over an hour for the 12 mile journey (longer than it took him to fly from the south). Despite people trying for many years to get a rail service to the airport in my opinion the main problem they faced is that they were talking to car owners. Since the 1970s the concept of representative bureaucracy has been widely embraced in the public services. Just like representative democracy should reflect the interests and diversity of the electorate, organisations that serve society will be better placed to do so if their employees represent all the segments of the population they serve (Evans, 1974). But representative bureaucracy, has been driven more by legislation than a genuine belief that it will improve policy making and service delivery. it has focused almost entirely on trying to ensure workforces are reflective of ethnicity, disability and gender. But, what about people that don’t own cars? How well are they represented? To have a station at an airport and four trains an hour that pass through it seems a great example of integrated transport – unfortunately none of the trains stop. The original reason for not allowing passengers to alight was the 15 minute walk from the station to the airport. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Manchester airport station to the airport. Have a shuttle taxi. Next time I get involved in any consultations or discussions about transport I am going to find out from the members of the group how they normally get about and see how representative they actually are.

Link to BBC news story

Evans, J. W. (1974). Defining representative bureaucracy. Public Administration Review, 34(6), 628-631.


High street decline – what does the management and marketing literature suggest?

Whilst the drivers of change affecting high streets are complex and cross discipline boundaries, the management and marketing literature may offer some solutions. To simplify the literature, we have reviewed potential high street interventions under the broad categories of ‘repositioning’, ‘reinventing’, ‘rebranding’ and ‘restructuring’.

Repositioning is a strategy that can be used to counteract decline (Smith, 2004). Rapid economic, political, and social changes, are most likely to lead places to repositioning strategies that will allow them to identify potential competitive advantages (Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2008). The focus of any interventions here should be on understanding the forces of change and the value of unique responses that reposition individual high streets, through building on distinct capabilities (such as local identity, Edensor, 1998) but are accommodative of future trends (such as an ageing population or the growth of m-commerce) and are therefore more resilient (Wrigley, and Dolega, 2011).

Reinventing should focus on elements of the place product within a framework of place marketing which suggests that any new developments should be guided by the marketing principle of meeting the needs/wants of identified target audiences (Ashworth and Voogd, 1990). The “reinventing” process of urban places can be built on activities that aim to revitalise a place’s identity and image; identity and image can be seen as both static (for communicative purposes in a fixed time) and dynamic, which recognises the uniqueness of each place and the difference in each stakeholder’s view about a place (Kalandides, 2011; Warnaby, 2011; Kavaratzis and Hatch, 2013). It is the latter view that can be used as a driver for reinventing places such as high streets and city centres; a framework built on these premises can unarguably assist the development of rejuvenated, competitive retailing spaces, which will merge innovation and local place identity, and will be meaningful for all stakeholders (Coca-Stefaniak, Parker, Quin, Rinaldi and Byrom, 2009). Retailing is an important element of the urban place product, and “reinventing” this sector along with improvements on complimentary elements of place can contribute to a better understanding of the formation of the “holistic” place product (Warnaby, Bennison and Davies, 2005).

Rebranding should focus on the communication of image and identity as previous studies demonstrate that place consumers may find that the place experience meets or exceeds expectations whilst the image of the place is ‘problematic’ (Selby, 2004). Rebranding a place is mainly concerned with the application of branding, marketing communications, and public relations techniques in order to deliver a consistent place identity, which can form a sum of beliefs, ideas, and impressions in the minds of potential consumers of a place (Kotler & Gertner, 2002). It can be thought of as the ‘organising principle’ for integrating measures (e.g. events, media relations, residents’ participation). Place branding can evoke favourable place images that transfer emotional and self-expression values, as well as utilitarian attributes to individuals (Caldwell & Freire, 2004). These images are part of a place’s secondary communication efforts (Kavaratzis, 2004), which consists of various slogans, advertisements, and PR campaigns which aim to assist a place’s actions towards development. Successful place brand management can lead to positive word-of-mouth, and also assist in the transformation of negative images (Hanna & Rowley, 2011; Skinner, 2011). The need to identify how potential stakeholders can co-create the place brand is the focus of recent developments in place branding (Warnaby, 2009; Hatch and Schultz, 2010). High streets, and particularly the retail sector, with the multitude of stakeholders involved in it (users, brokers, fixers) (Pal and Sanders, 1997), can highlight the desires, needs, and views of those stakeholders, which can lead to a better understanding of how place brands are created and evolve (Kavaratzis, 2009; Hanna & Rowley, 2011; Kavaratzis & Hatch, 2013).

Finally, restructuring, should focus on forms of management and governance, including formal and informal (Coca-Stefaniak et al, 2009; Peel, 2003); regulatory, functional, and contractual (Lloyd and Peel, 2008; Peel et al, 2009) and modes of communication / knowledge exchange (Peel and Lloyd, 2008a, b). Consequently, the major point of interest is how high streets can be restructured in order to facilitate all the changes mentioned above. Place management and retail management are recognised as interdependent areas, and practices that entail both commercial and locational benefits is the best way forward (Bennison, Warnaby and Pal, 2010). Restructuring and cooperation of all place stakeholders and creation of strategic networks and transparent public-private relationships can nurture conditions for the sustainable development of a place (van den Berg and Braun, 1999; Rainisto, 2003). Physical restructuring is also another area which is encapsulated in place management and place marketing strategies; the proper use of current infrastructure (temporal) and the development of new retail spaces are major antecedents of place attractiveness and place development (Pike, 2010; Teller and Elms, 2010). In the case of retailing, the best spaces created from restructuring can enliven the high street and also shape a better image for the place which can enhance retail operations (Pal and Byrom, 2003).

This review has been written by Cathy Parker, Nikolaos-Foivos Ntounis and Mihalis Kavartzis for an Economic and Social Research Council Knowledge Exchnage Project : High Street UK 2020. The full list of references is available upon request. Please contact

Multiple retailers to appoint High Street Champions

In an initiative recently announced major retailers have pledged their support to local towns by providing High Street Champions.

The Co-op, Boots, Marks & Spencer and Wilkinson are just some of the high street retailers that say they are going appoint a local store manager to work in the community, to advance the revitalisation of their local high street.

Town centre manager readers will probably be wondering what all the fuss is about. There have been multiple retailer representatives on town centre partnerships over the past 20 years in the UK. However, over time, the initial enthusiasm from retailers like Sainsburys has reduced as has their their financial support.

Of course it is important to have all high street stakeholders working together. However, UK retailing is very centralised and hierarchical in decision-making. After the initial fanfare, just how involved local store managers can get into the ins and outs of the problems facing local high streets remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it makes sense. Not just to the high street but to the retailers themselves. Whilst multiple retailers benefit from national economies of scale, they all serve local markets. Having a better understanding of their contribution to the overall high-street product that serves a specific target market sounds like good business sense.

You can read more about the initiative at

Special Issue of Journal of Place Management and Development

Volume 6 Issue 1 is now available on early cite. This is the Special Issue: The Business of Place: Critical, Practical and Pragmatic Perspective that contains selected papers from the 3rd International Place Branding and 2nd Institute of Place Management Conference which is taking place 13th and 14th Feb. Congratulations to all our authors.

My Place is not Your Place – Different Place Brand Knowledge by Different Target Groups by Sebastian Zenker and Suzanne C. Beckmann

My City – My Brand: The Different Roles of Residents in Place Branding by Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, and Sebastian Zenker

A Study on the Delivery of City Branding Advertisements in China: City Branding Advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010 by Chunying Wen

Developing a Collective Capacity for Place Management by Tore Omholt

Slum Tourism, City Branding, and Social Urbanism: The Case of Medellin, Colombia by Jaime Hernandez-Garcia

The Tools for City Centre Revitalization in Portugal by Pedro Porfírio Coutinho Guimarães

Volume 5 Issue 3 of the Journal of Place Management and Development now out

The most recent issue of the JPMD is now out.  This means we have 5 years of Volumes now, so thank you very much to all our authors, reviewers, Editorial Board members and Editors. This issue contains the following articles:

Branding slums: a community-driven strategy for urban inclusion in Rio de Janeiro by I Torres, Government of Federal District, Brazil

Place marketing and phases of the image : a conceptual framework by S M Zavattaro, University of Texas at Brownsville, USA

Towards a theory of place marketing by T Niedomysl (Lund University) and M Jonasson (Halmstad University), Sweden

Unraveling the complexity of ‘city brand equity’: a three dimensional framework by A Lucarelli, Stockholm University, Sweden

Place brand equity: a model for establishing the effectiveness of place brands by B P Jacobsen, University of Dundee, UK

“We love the Gong” : a marketing perspective by G Kerr (University of Wollongong) , K Dombkins (Tourism Wollongong)and S Jelley (University of Wollongong), Australia

Members of the IPM can access the JPMD as part of their membership package.  If you would like to join the IPM then please contact me at

Keynote Speech : Rob Hopkins and “the biggest urban brainwave of the century”

ImageWe are delighted to confirm Dr Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes as a Keynote Speaker at the 3rd International Place Branding and 2nd Institute of Place Management Conference.

Rob Hopkins brings humour, imagination and vision to the great challenges of our time, and argues that what is needed, above all else, at this time in history, is “engaged optimism”.  The rapidly-spreading Transition movement which he was pivotal in establishing, is an embodiment of that.  Nicholas Crane, presenter of BBC2’s recent ‘Town’ series, recently referred to Transition as “the biggest urban brainwave of the century”.  Rob’s experience with community-led approaches to strategic place management and branding will be an inspiring addition to the conference.

Rob is the author of the newly-published “The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times”, and previously wrote the best-selling ‘Transition Handbook’.   He was the winner of the 2008 Schumacher Award, is an Ashoka Fellow and a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, served 3 years as a Trustee of the Soil Association, and was named by the Independent as one of the UK’s top 100 environmentalists.  He is the winner of the 2009 Observer Ethical Award for the Grassroots Campaigner category, and in December 2009 was voted the Energy Saving Trust/Guardian’s ‘Green Community Hero’.  In February 2012, Rob and the Transition Network were among NESTA and The Observer’s list of ‘Britain’s 50 New Radicals’.

He blogs at, tweets as robintransition, speaks widely on Transition and peak oil, holds an MSc in Social Research and recently completed a PhD at the University of Plymouth entitled ‘Localisation and resilience at the local level: the case of Transition Town Totnes’.   He recently became a Visiting Fellow at the University of Plymouth  and lives in Devon where he raises both children and various vegetables.

Ilminster – The Only Town in England to not have an empty shop?

Ilminster – The Only Town in England to not have an empty shop?

Ilminster claims to be the only town in England that doesn’t have an empty shop. BBC Radio Somerset covered the story this morning and interviewed me about the benefits of supermarkets in town centres and retailers owning their own premises.  You’ll find the interview 1:47 mins into the Breakfast Programme.