Pat Willoughby presented a report which detailed the background to the development of Delivery and Investment Plans (DIPs) for the first five Towns and two Investment Corridors, set out the work to date, its background from previous Board reports and which recommended a way forward. She advised that the development of the DIPs would afford an opportunity to look further at the use of AMC, the target for zero carbon homes and affordable housing. She explained that the various DIPs were almost ready for sign-off by the respective local authorities. The ‘next steps’ in the process had been agreed at the last Housing and Land Board and were being discussed bilaterally with each council including the necessary steps to deliver the proposed outcomes. She reminded the Board that each Town Centre was different and therefore that a ‘one size fits all’ solution would not be appropriate.
The Chair commented that the Town Centres would be very different when they did eventually re-open for trading and requested that a report be prepared for consideration at the next meeting of the Board in relation to supporting ‘Town Centre Living’. He acknowledged that this could possibly require changes to the current SCF and also local planning policies in relation to car parking provision. He suggested that a policy of proactively supporting Town Centre Living could reduce the reliance on car use and/or ownership but believed that living, working and shopping in the Town Centre could stimulate the local economy. Gareth Bradford commented that the SCF had been amended as agreed at the previous Board meetings around town centre regeneration and renewal, density, advanced methods of construction and affordable housing. He suggested that this important town centre living piece could helpfully link into the Covid-19 recovery work given the very significant challenges facing our town centres in light of Covid-19 exacerbating previous trends. A significant element of that work would be around amending the town centre programme of the Housing and Land Board in light of the enhanced challenges and new opportunities.
Councillor Joanne Hadley reminded the Board that she had raised previously the need for people to feel safe when shopping on the High Street and suggested that the use of Street Wardens or increased Police presence be explored. The Chair commented that there were several reasons why people were reluctant to use local Town Centres but that the Covid-19 pandemic had served to promote the use of local shops. He referred to the problems with on-street beggars which many people found threatening and on the need for people to support relevant charitable organisations rather than direct giving. He opined that Town Centre Living would improve the feeling of safety in Town Centres through increased footfall.
Councillor Jacqueline Sweetman advised that research indicated that people visited Town Centres for an experience, be that to visit a restaurant, cinema, exhibition etc. rather than to shop necessarily. She also requested that future reports included details of timescales for the completion of tasks and identified the Responsible Officer. Gareth Bradford remarked that this was normally the case and referred the Board to the Project Execution Plan contained in the report on AMC, the clear next steps in the report on zero carbon or the report to the previous meeting on affordable Housing Delivery Vehicle when firm timelines had been detailed.
Councillor Jacqueline Sweetman commented that the feeling of wellbeing in High Streets could be markedly different when these streets re-opened and that there could be a complete re-imagination of the reason for the visit and thus the town centre itself. The Chair acknowledged that a congregation of youths would serve to disincentivise shoppers from visiting as would the lack of Public Conveniences.
Councillor Ian Courts commended the report and the ensuing discussion on town centre renewal. He asked whether there was a need to look at interventions in town centres on a wider scale and enquired as to the further possible interventions which could be deployed. He reminded the Board that the respective Business Improvement Districts had a role to play albeit they were struggling with their own problems at the present time. He commented on the need to encourage independent traders and suggested that local authorities which owned retail premises should look favourably on such traders.
Councillor Joanne Hadley commented that it was likely that some businesses would not re-open and suggested that steps be taken to encourage new businesses by offering financial inducements such as peppercorn rents etc. The Chair commented that many shop units were owned by absentee landlords who were indifferent to the success or otherwise of individual town centres and communities. He requested that a report on a Town Centre Strategy be submitted to the next meeting of the Board.
Councillor Joanne Hadley referred to the number of business premises which had fallen into disrepair and on the need for local authority Planning Departments to use their statutory powers to seek the necessary repair work.
Gareth Bradford concluded by thanking the Board for their welcome support for the papers presented today and that as requested the team working with local councils, business and other partners would come forward with initial proposals for discussion around the post Covid19 portfolio plan and a revised town centre programme and approach at the next meeting.
1. That the positive progress and engagement on the preparation of Delivery and Investment Plans which were now nearing completion in line with the framework, format, purpose, approach and characteristics set out previously by this Board over the last 12 months be noted. The Delivery and Investment Plans relate to:
· Bordesley Green;
· West Bromwich;
· Walsall to Wolverhampton Inclusive Growth Corridor; and
· Sandwell to Dudley Inclusive Growth Corridor.
2. That it be noted that the report had been considered and the contents endorsed for submission to this Board by the Housing and Land Steering Group in discussion with relevant members as appropriate;
3. That delegated authority be granted to the Director of Housing and Regeneration in consultation with the Portfolio Lead for Housing and Land to agree the final versions of the Delivery and Investment Plans (for publication) for the town centres and inclusive growth corridors listed above. This being conditional on each plan being agreed, in advance, by Officers and Members of the relevant local authorities;
4. That all future reports submitted to this Board include details of timelines for actions together with the Responsible Officer;
5. That a report on a revised Town Centre Strategy and programme as part of the Covid-19 response, including specific support for town centre living, be submitted to the next meeting.