It was great to speak at the Restitch conference today in Coventry about the co-operative approach to revitalising our town centres.


There is no denying our high streets are changing, we are shopping differently, and they need to reflect that, but too often the conversation and interventions aren’t keeping pace with that change. We need to move beyond just the retail spaces of the past and embrace community-led approaches to town centre regeneration are required – empowering communities to reshape their high streets with the goods and services they want.


But we believe in being more than community-led, we want to see out town centres community owned. Ownership really matters, and is a huge determinant of the long-term outcomes for a place. Your local Marks & Spencer may up and leave, but you local community isn’t. Residents in Coventry aren’t going to vote to leave, board up all the shops and move to Warwick!

Community ownership a big part of reviving town centres – public institutions such as cinemas, pubs, music venues and sports clubs as well as community-led housing. But there are challenges, many of these public institutions have been threatened by economic factors in recent times – leading to their loss as community assets, and housing has moved out into the suburbs and owners can be opaque for many town centre assets.

But know there is an alternative and that it is being done now from Union Street in Plymouth, the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool, and Midsteeple Quarter, Dumfries

But if we want to take this across the country rather than limit to a few places of best practice we need legislation and policy to catch up with the changes.

That’s why we have been working with Labour on a new enhanced Community Right to Buy  that would provide communities with first rights of refusal on assets of community value, increasing the window of purchase from 6 months to 12 months. And alongside that we want to see that backed by a devolved Community Ownership Fun and a new High Street Buyout Fund. This would combine public, social and private investment to purchase major assets for communities – such as former civic centres, town halls and music venues.

Another game changer would be the reform of business rates to level the playing field between high street and online. This is an example of where government has failed to keep up with the changes our town centres have seen – it can’t be right that retail units are penalised with greater rates for improving and adding to their services – the very services that would help bring people in.


We have the answers to reform our town centres, we have seen them in practice already, now is the time for a new government to unleash them, and put communities back at the heart of our towns.