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.

HS2020 research presented at Inside Government: Next Steps for Revitalising UK High Streets

A guest blog by Dr Costastas Theodoridis and Dr Amna Kahn, of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University

Town-centre and BID managers, policy-makers, practitioners and academics were gathered in London to discuss the revitalisation of the UK High Streets. In the all-day ‘Next Steps for Revitalising UK High Streets’ event delegates had the opportunity to find out about the recent developments in digital and traditional high-street management and development. The event was chaired by Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick from Loughborough University who also delivered a keynote speech focused on the digital high-street health-check index developed by her and her colleagues.

A lot of attention was paid to the digitisation of the high-streets and particularly to the benefits that retail organisations will see if they develop an active digital presence. Steve Woolley, from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, highlighted the impact that the management of the personal data has to the patronage of retailers and the threats that may occur if a retailer misuse the data collected by the consumers. The Institute of Place Management was represented in the event by its Director Simon Quin who reminded to the delegates the importance of location and the physical place, and presented the findings of the High Street UK 2020 project.

Simon discussed how the evolution of the retail environment is changing, looking at various relevant trends as identified by the part-funded ESRC HSUK2020 research project. As well as talking about the 25 priorities for town/city centre vitality and viability, Simon also presented research findings relating to footfall signatures that identify different kinds of centres and provided the views of the Institute of Place Management on the emerging issues. Simon Pitkeathley’s, CEO of the Camden Town Unlimited, presentation on the use of the technology to facilitate the transformation of High Streets addressed how the visual appearance, the visionary management of the High Streets, the development of diverse anchors and stores, and the amount and quality of recreational space in a High Street – areas identified within the 25 priorities for the High Streets in the HS2020 project – provided evidence from Camden Town on how the physical place can be promoted to the consumers through the use of digital tools.

The delegates had the opportunity to ask their questions to the speakers and their answers provided valuable insight on the understanding of the instrumental role of the digital technology to place management.lower_high_street_2_670_230_84_c1_c_c_0_0_1

White paper: Tabula Rasa or Toilet Paper?

The Government published its White Paper today outlining the policy for economic growth entitled “Local Growth: Realising Every Place’s Potential”.  To save you the trouble I have spent the afternoon reading it.  Nick Clegg’s introduction says that the Coalition Government is “determined to do something different” (p.3) so I was interested in reviewing the paper to see just how much is really new and what it is likely to mean for some places. 

First of all, the Government is planning to stop prioritising investment on the basis of region or sector.  In relation to region, this absolves the Government of its previous responsibility to “narrow the growth rates between different regions”(p.11).  In the main, this relied on public funding but the White Paper states that the UK economy has become “unbalanced and too reliant on public spending”. 

There is a 1.4 billion Regional Growth Fund, which areas that “depend too heavily on the public sector for jobs” can bid for, to create more private sector employment.  But this is only available for three years.  Is it really possible to create a private-sector led local recovery in our most deprived areas in just 3 years? 

The Resilience Ranking compiled by Experian anked Middlesbrough, Mansfield and Stoke-on-Trent as the most at risk from public spending cuts.  I know these three areas very well, and even if they all got 1.4 billion pounds, it wouldn’t turn round decades of decline in three years.  Middlesbrough has had a £1.5 billion investment programme but it still has an unemployment rate of 6%, with some wards having rates as high as 17% (source: Tees Valley Unlimited).  The Public Sector provides much needed employment in these areas, I don’t see this as a ‘weakness’.  What’s wrong with having a few more teachers, doctors, police officers, park wardens etc. in places that need them? 

As for abandoning the prioritisation of certain sectors, that’s good news for those sectors that have been discriminated against, like the independent retail sector.  Whitehall has always looked down its nose at retail, as it doesn’t create wealth…it just moves it around.  Nevertheless, like the Public Sector, it provides a lot of employment and enterprise ‘training’. 

I presume the new Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) will be free to invest in whatever sectors are locally important, rather than being told what to do by Central Government (and let’s face it, there are many more entrepreneurs that want to set up retail and service businesses than high-tech/bio-tech ones).  In principle, local decision making is a good thing, but it doesn’t always work. 

The local Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) only lasted 10 years.  Like the LEPs, TECs were employer-led, with two-thirds of the members of each TEC board having to be chairs or chief executives of private sector employers.  But they were disbanded because, overall, they were not effective at local labour force development, many were accused of “creaming off” government funds for initiatives not relevant to local employment needs and rather than being entrepreneurial and efficient many were “out of control” and overly bureaucratic. 

So what else is not new?  12 directly elected mayors for the 12 largest English cities.  As my friend Choco from Stoke said on my Facebook today “We had it in stoke, party politics comes into it too much and there’s too much power in one persons hands it’s been ditched here amid allegations of corruption, wasting public funds and overpaid non local executives so beware!”. 

This reminded me of the country’s highest paid monkey (see picture above), the mayor of Hartlepool, who was elected on his manifesto of free bananas for schoolchildren. Hartlepool is now one of the country’s best performing local authorities and many credit Stuart Hammond (the man in the monkey suit) for providing strong and honest leadership.  So it can work, but maybe it is because he is not a career politician that means he has done things differently.  I can’t image us electing Moonchester here in Manchester.

Are you still awake?  Only a couple more things to go now.  Tax Increment Financing.  This is when local authorities can borrow money in anticipation of increased future revenue from business rates that result from their investment. I think I’ve got that right.  It’s nothing new in the US, who have thousands of TIF districts.  But we have already seen what private-sector led investment has done to many of our towns and cities, identical-looking blocks of flats, carbon-copy shopping centres and yawn, not-another-glass-office-building.

Finally, the Government proposes to reform the planning system so that local communities can make their own decisions “changing the culture of planning so that the default position is in favour of development” (p.28).  Usually the only reason local people get involved in the planning process is to stop development – so I think this is going to be the hardest change to deliver.

So, on the whole the proposed changes to the planning system have the potential to have the most radical impact on local areas…..but I am not sure if it will be positive or negative.  The cutbacks in public spending in the country’s most deprived areas will set them back even further….increasing the gap between the South East and the rest of the country.  On the positive side, this White Paper does promote place management (although it doesn’t refer to the multi-stakeholder partnership approach to place improvement in such terms).  So, in areas where strong partnerships already exist the reduction in top-down management from London should ‘free them up’ to achieve their potential.  It takes time to establish these partnerships though, especially ones that are truly representative of all local stakeholders.

Key to regeneration and enterprise?

Good Morning Folks!

This is Ben here, Live blogging on behalf of Cathy at the New Statesman Fringe event for the Labour Party Conference.

First of all may I admit that the daunting prospect of a Monday morning Live-blogging task has been made easier by the good people in Starbucks (St. Anne’s Square) by providing possibly the two most dangerous words for me; Free & Pastries… Crumbs aside, I’ll endeavour to get your up to speed as and when the event kicks off.

If you want to keep up in real-time, you can merely refresh this image and the Internet faeries will do the rest.

If you have any questions for the panel please fire them over to me by


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Here’s the details folks;

Big brands: Key to regeneration and enterprise?
Starbucks & New Statesman Fringe Meeting at Labour Party Conference

And on the Panel we have;

Stephen Timms MP, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury
The Rt Hon Stephen Timms is currently the Member of Parliament for East Ham.

Professor Cathy Parker, Professor of Retail and Marketing Enterprise, Manchester Metropolitan

Chris Ward, author ‘Coffice’

Susan Hinchcliffe, Regeneration and Partnerships Manager, Business in the Community

Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Alex Preston, New Statesman columnist (chair)

Looks like things may be moving soon, so I’ll get settled and get blogging 🙂


Fire safety et al and we have kicked off, Spencer Neil (who incidentally, has misplaced his Yellow Notebook) introduces the panel. The danish pastries are going down a treat with what looks to be a room full of journo’s.

Cathy is Introduced as the ‘brightest of all of us’ which may not be far of from the truth at this time of the morning.

Steven Timms MP gets us underway with his take on branding with a quick pop quiz. “What is the oldest packaged brand, which is still available in the same packaging today”..Answers on a postcard to…(It is Tate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup)

After a resume of branding strategy and Steven’s ideas on the future, involving communities. He draws upon his experience in his constituency, East Ham where Primark moved in and he thinks added not only to the High St., but aided the community too (not sure Cathy wil agree with that last point).

Mr. Miliband gets his first mention of the morning as the new Labour Party leader will have to consider current partnerships with business and the wider community.

Next up is Susan Hinchcliffe from Business in the Community who tags onto the Rt. Hon Gentlemans brand quiz by adding that the brand in question hosts a number of social enterprises in its sugar refinery.  

Interesting point from Susan, in that big businesses don’t like to be the only player on the high st. and welcome competition from the independent retail sector. Susan refers to our own IPM members indirectly by asserting that Town Centre Managers struggle to engage with the big brands that straddle our high st.


And Cathy is up, kicking off with a reference to the High St Britain report.

Cathy talks about her interest and desire for proper place management on the high street and how successful tales towns up and down the country often have an existing board/initiative in place between the big brands, the independent operators  and the town’s top brass to manage these places.  Alex Preston is up next.

Alex touches upon the difficult issue of financing, comparing the borrowing power of  Diageo et al with the less favourable rates the government can borrow at.   After a brief introduction the final member of the panel Chris Wood gives us his two cents. Chris boasts an incredible CV from Boots counter worker to the founder of the doomed Friends Reunited among other initiatives. His book is on sale and he mentions that he works pretty much everyday, remotely from various coffee shops around the world and is a Foursquare efficiando.

The coffeeshop environment is explored from the entrepreneurs point of view as he suggests that

“If you are marketing to Mothers, spend time in a coffeeshop beside a school”

Interesting concept, although coffeeshop marketing may not take off as a moniker..


And the floor is open;

1. Patti from The Protection of Infant Health who thinks that we are concentrating on protecting big brands and ignoring the impact on real people…

-Cathy address this first wondering whether CSR is actually a misnomer, a big brand’s responsibility is to its shareholders before wider society. 

2. A labour candidate queries the panel on their consideration of awareness of corporate structure.

-Social enterprises are cracked open by Susan and while appreciating the scope for the good work they are doing, she points out that they are thin on the ground.  Cathy thinks that new forms of corporate structure, such as Community Interest Companies have a lot of potential to manage and regenerate areas.

3. How can charities get involved without compromising their charitable intentions?

Chris: Decisions about Fairtrade are not made because high st. brands really believe in them, it is ultimately because it makes them look good. SME’s alse use FT to hijack a bigger brand than themselves.

4. Is a new Sainsburys imact on small dying high st. town (Staffordshire-Moreland) a good thing?

Susan: Yes it is a good idea, but something must support it, like supplementary shops and cafes. This can be tackled by proper design and planning to create shops in between the Supermarket and the main part of the town.

Cathy: It depends if anyone is trying to leverage the impact of Sainsbury’s for the good of the High Street.   Coordination of effort from a place management body can achieve ‘co-opetition’…where large and small operators both compete but collaborate at the same time.

Alex: Some recent research in the US has found that whenever a Wallmart sets up out of town, the level of participation in political elections goes down.  Point being that there tends to be a disengagement within a community when they have to leave the centre to go shopping.

5. Mechanism to allow Big brands to put funding support into local charities/initiatives

-Steve refers to the ROI for governments investing which will result in lower offending rates. Idea of social returns is a very lucrative one for local councils and will be noticed at the highest level of government.

-True mutual partnerships are not just based upon cash, it may involve sitting on a board, attending meetings etc.

And that’s your lot folks, very interesting debate and I don’t think I’ve done it justice today as I can’t type as fast as the banter went back and forth.

Again, any comments, drop us a line on any of the following:


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Good morning

Guardian Newspaper Careers Debate on Town Planning

Tomorrow I am a panelist for a Guardian on-line debate on careers in town planning. Town planning has been in the news recently due to the Scottish Funding Council’s consultation on future spending for university courses. The council aims to cut down on the amount of funding given to planning and architecture courses, downgrading these subjects to the lowest possible funding level. 

Town planning is one of the routes into a career in place management – but town planners tend to be more distant from the communities they plan.  At my own university (Manchester Metropolitan University) we do offer an MSc in Place Management – and as this qualification resides in the Business School – it attracts the same funding as other business courses.  The cost of delivering class-room based qualifications rather than those that rely on laboratory study and more practical work is obviously lower. 

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what people post – personally I think a funding shake-up is a good opportunity to critically evaluate an educational product….but then I am not a Course Leader of a Town Planning degree.  If you are interested in contributing to the debate then all you need to do is register on the Guardian’s website and post your comments.