High streets should be the beating heart of our community. They’re the place we do our weekly shop, pick up prescriptions or grab a coffee. They form the backdrop to our social life, the stage for our community action and the centrepiece of our civic pride.

However, many high streets are struggling. Even before Covid-19, town centres faced many challenges. The past months of lockdowns, uncertainty, reduced footfall and new safety requirements, as well as a financial crash that has squeezed consumer spending, has accelerated this trend. In 2020, British high streets lost more than 17,500 chain store outlets – an average of almost 50 a day.

Shuttered shops are not a new problem – so the solution cannot be a return to the status quo. To unlock the potential of our high streets we cannot simply tinker around the edges. Instead, we need to be radical, putting communities in the driving seat not to save their high streets but to change them completely for the better.

The Problem

Opaque ownership of land and buildings in town centres makes it incredibly difficult for communities to lead local regeneration or shape the character of their town. High rents and profit-seeking absentee landlords mean too often local residents are forced to choose between yet another betting shop they don’t want or an unsightly empty unit.

And even more shockingly research shows that one fifth of shops are owned by overseas investors. European and other international banks, global real estate investment trusts, other investment funds and wealthy private individuals make up the vast majority of overseas owners of UK shops. Distant disjointed ownership makes it difficult to develop bottom-up, accountable town centre plans – and crucially, the people with the power to shape our high streets are the not people who live there, shop locally, work in retail, enjoy spending time there or rely on its services.

Our broken tax framework puts bricks and mortar on the back foot, while global tech giants don’t pay their fair share. National chains are closing flagship stores leaving hundreds of retail employees without jobs and gaping holes in the hearts of high streets.

Our banking system doesn’t serve our high streets either – bank branch closures reduce footfall into town centres and make it harder for small businesses to cash up at the end of the day too, while the financial system consistently fails to lend to SMEs and co-operatives looking for the funds to start up and grow.

The Solution

Our ‘Unlock The High Street’ campaign seeks to empower communities and give them the tools they need to breathe new life into high streets – not a return to the past’s broken models but an opportunity to support people to come together and shape the places they call home.

This means ownership transparency and new routes for community and co-operative ownership, because we know what who owns our economy is in whose interests it operates. We want to tap into the power of community politics that saw many neighbourhoods through this pandemic through mutual aid networks. We need to reform the way businesses on our high streets are taxed, so that they aren’t penalised by onerous business rates while global online retailers get away without paying their fair share. And we need to put our money where our mouth is – not just providing the funding for town centre renewal but allowing the people affected rather than politicians and bureaucrats to decide how it’s spent.

The Plan

Our Unlock The High Street campaign wants to breathe new life into high streets – not a return to the past’s broken models but an opportunity to support communities to come together and shape the places they call home.

We are calling for:

TRANSPARENCY

We want to know who owns our high street. Without this, it’s impossible for communities and councils to hold landlords and investors to account, or work with them to lead change.

Community and co-operative ownership

So that the benefits of high street rejuvenation are shared with employees, shoppers and the community, rather than captured for private profit elsewhere.

Community power

So that local communities and councils can take over and reopen empty shops.

Tax reform

So that we stop penalising local shops with unfair and disproportionate business rates while online giants get away without paying their fair share.

Devolved funding

So that decisions on town centre transformation are made locally by the people who are impacted, not distant bureaucrats in Whitehall or on the basis of political whims.

What you can do

Ask your council to pass our motion

We want to work with councils to help high street regeneration across the UK. You can help by adding your name in support of our council motion: we'll then contact your council and encourage them to take the motion forward!

Support the motion

Sign our "Levelling Up" petition

Levelling up cannot become a byword for a Whitehall power grab. Call on the Government to devolve the various Levelling Up funding pots so communities, councils and regions have the ultimate say in how it is spend in their area.

Add your name

Survey your high street

We're gathering data on high streets across the UK, and you can help! Click the button below to download a printable survey which will help us assess you high street. Go for a quick walk, take photos of what you see, and send us the results!

Download the Survey

Write to your local paper

We’re keen to help you raise the profile and the challenges that your high street face in your local press. We’ve drafted some letters for you to send to your local paper. This will probably need tailoring to suit your local situation and to take into account devolved arrangements but there provide a good starting point for you..

Download example letters

Tweet about the campaign

We want people in every community to get involved in our High Streets campaign. Will you tweet our hashtag and encourage people to get involved?.

Tweet #UnlockTheHighStreets

Share this page to your local WhatsApp group

The best way to help transform your high street is to do it with your neighbours and friends. Share this page to your local WhatsApp groups to get the conversation started about your high street!

Send on WhatsApp

Resources for councillors

Download our model motion

Help push forward change in your community by passing our High Streets motion at your local council. We've provided model motions for your inspiration below.

Share your local best practice

We’ve brought together ‘high street pioneers’ – from Oldham to Exeter, Torfaen to Leicester and Stroud – who are developing innovative ways to breathe new life into their local town centres. If your local council or community is pioneering something exciting too, we want to hear about it!

Share your examples of best practice here

Promoted by Joe Fortune on behalf of the Co-operative Party, both at Unit 13, 83 Crampton Street, London, SE17 3BQ, United Kingdom.Co-operative Party Limited is a registered Society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Registered no. 30027R

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