Many of the city’s and region’s town centres are in a “death spiral” and initiatives such as the Mary Portas fund will not halt this decline, experts in Bristol have warned.
A survey of local authorities by property adviser GVA found that more than four in 10 town centre redevelopments in England and Wales are delayed, halted or permanently stalled. At the same time a third of councils have no schemes planned at all.
While Bedminster in Bristol will receive a share of the Portas money to help regenerate, the report adds that the initiative is “mainly palliative” and does not address the root cause of decline.
Matthew Morris, director of planning, development and regeneration at GVA’s Bristol office, said: “These findings illustrate the significant challenges that both local authorities and the private sector are facing while trying to progress retail-led town centre development.
“The Government has restated the long-standing ‘town centres first’ planning policy, but the clear focus of development activity remains out of centre, to complement online sales growth. Unless there is a pipeline of suitable, viable and available town centre opportunities, and the Government enforces its policies, this trend will accelerate.
“Given the critical importance of new investment in our town centres, it is vital that existing and new opportunities are re-evaluated. It is too early to write off our town centres as being in a ‘death spiral’, but for some that is a very real risk without urgent action.”
The initial findings of GVA’s survey shows a number of common factors are responsible for the delays in regenerating town centres including development viability (in 45% of cases), problems with site assembly (28%), weak occupier demand (23%) and problems with development financing (21%).
The survey also shows that, of the schemes progressing with an original opening date, almost three quarters are anchored by a food store.
The survey results and GVA’s latest research bulletin which explores how successful retail development can be promoted and delivered, is available from www.gva.co.uk