Leaders lay out new vision for Liverpool City Region’s town centres

A new report compiled by top Liverpool City Region leaders has laid out what its town centres must do to protect their future – and lead the post-Covid recovery.

The Liverpool City Region Town Centres Commission today releases its ‘Future of Town Centres’ report, which said these areas are “vital” to communities and the economy.

The report’s theme is ‘anchor, belong and connect’ – and lays out a total of 23 recommendations for town centres under these three headings.

It said ‘anchor’ refers to social, cultural and economic value – strategically investing in towns to make them “attractive, inviting and accessible for a diverse community”, while they should also ‘belong’ to communities – providing a local focus in the city region. ‘Connect’ refers to connecting people and places within and beyond the region – offering themselves as places to live and visit, with good quality housing and transport.

On the commission were a host of leaders from across the business, public and third sectors. It was carried out in partnership with think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research North.

Four of the key recommendations made to policymakers were:

  • Revenue investment that maximises the value of capital projects, to sustain them over time and let them develop and adapt to changing circumstances
  • Encouragement and opportunities for creative and cultural businesses, social enterprise and diverse entrepreneurship, including small scale grants and loans
  • Innovation in funding, ownership, design and the use of space such as encouraging pop-up spaces for community activity, local businesses or public service delivery; and ensuring vacant land is well managed and activated to contribute positively to town centres until its future use is decided
  • Policymaking that puts people first in town centres – for example making health and wellbeing a key aim of policy, helping people to build skills for jobs in their local area, and giving local people more control over their town centre’s future through co-operative planning.

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Liam Kelly, chief executive of Make CIC, and a member of the commission, said: ““The renaissance of our region’s towns hangs in the balance. They can be a good news story post pandemic. But this requires us to rethink and reprioritise.

“Critically, those in power must focus less on the fabric of our towns (buildings) and more on the life blood (people).

“After all, it’s people who create purpose and define a place; employ others; buy, make and sell things locally.

“This commission has recommended a number of people-focused interventions that can make the difference, such as micro grants and micro finance for ideas. This will provide the energy we need to build back better.”

Liam Kelly from the Baltic Triangle Company
Make Liverpool’s Liam Kelly

The group met six times throughout 2020, with Mr Kelly joined on the commission by city leaders including Dr Alex Singleton, professor of geographic information science at the University of Liverpool, Bronwen Rapley, chief executive of Onward Homes, and Pam Thomas, the city council’s cabinet member for inclusive and accessible city.

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: ““When I launched this commission, I said that our economy, both regionally and nationally, would not thrive unless success was shared between our cities and our towns.

“Locally we’ve been investing in both the present and future of town centres.

“We’ve put tens of millions of pounds into town centres across the region from New Ferry and Bootle, to Kirkby and Southport. I launched a multi-million-pound town centre fund to help empower local councils to build the capacity to develop ambitious plans to invest in the regeneration of their high streets.

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram
(Image: SWNS.com)

“I’m really grateful to everyone who has worked on the commission to put together this report. We’ll be working to see how we can put its principles and recommendations into practice.

“Despite the challenges of this pandemic, I want to safeguard the future of our town centres to ensure that they remain at the heart of our communities for generations to come.”

Dr Sarah Longlands, chair of the Liverpool Town Centres Commission, and director of IPPR North, added: It’s clear that the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on town centres across the city region.

“Whilst some towns have fared better as some people have stayed closer to home for shopping and hospitality, many towns are struggling as footfall has disappeared particularly in towns which depend upon tourism, and the way ahead is uncertain.

Liscard town centre on Wirral’s first day out of lockdown

“The commission’s report is a first step in trying to understand what the pandemic will mean for the future role of towns across the city region.

“As we try to see a future beyond Covid-19, we must come to terms with how town centres have changed and the challenges and opportunities that this presents for all of us. We hope that this report contributes to that task.”

The commission said it would now offer to continue to play an advisory role in supporting the combined authority to implement its recommendations – and advocate the region’s town centres nationally and internationally.

The report and full list of recommendations can be found on the IPPR North page.

Business Live – North West