Towns, High Streets, Resilience and Place Governance

I was very pleased to be invited to speak (Trans Pennine Express willing) at the Institute of Place Management Conference being held in Manchester on the 19th and 20th April. My presentation is on the 20th and so today, as customary, I post my overheads for anyone interested.

The title of the conference is ‘Good Growth: Tackling big issues using place-based policy, theory and practice.’  The description of the conference continues:

“The UK is battling for a return to economic growth. And not just the abstract glow of climbing GDP figures but a real change that is recognised and felt by people in the communities where they live and work.”

“Good growth is a familiar narrative of post-war politics, but place leaders are now facing new and acute resource challenges and tough choices about where and how to invest in our towns and cities.”

I was asked to speak about resilience and governance mainly in terms of retail (given my earlier paper) but also around towns and high streets. The overheads cover themes that will not be unfamiliar to the readers of this blog, so here I will focus on some of the key points I want to make.

It is clear that what we have and what we had before Covid was not working for our society and places. Places though are not islands and do not operate in a vacuum and are governed in various spatial contexts. This demands we consider resilience and governance for whom.

The inadequacies and absurdities of the Tories Build Back Better High Streets “policy” have now been joined by the Labour Party’s 5 point Save the High Street Plan. We have to ask where is the national leadership on the real issues facing our communities, towns and high streets?

Recent academic work (Ntounis et al 2023) has reviewed high street viability in the English context but I would ask whether this simply shows we are not asking the right questions and failing to provide national and local leadership.

As I have noted before, we will not succeed by doing the same things we have for the last 50+ years, only a little less badly. If we need a more inclusive society and economy and towns to be engaging, vital, viable etc for all and to address our climate crisis then focusing attention and limited resources on one part of the problem (the town centre) and ignoring its relationships with the alternatives (out-of-town, sprawl, online) and enablers (local services, location, transport) will simply mean nothing changes at worst, or at best small local changes take a long time for limited effect. 

We require a grown-up conversation about the causes of our current plight in towns, high streets, disadvantaged communities and governments and leadership – and then implement the policies needed to reverse the situation. This is uncomfortable and requires us all (individuals, organisations and companies, as well as all levels of government) to change our behaviours, approaches and actions. 

There is no point in being resilient if it is failing large parts of communities and the country. The same is true of place governance. Good growth is local, inclusive and sustainable, whereas so much of what we currently support is the direct opposite of this. We must demand better.


Ntounis N, SØnderland Saga R, Warnaby G, Loroño-Leturiondo M, and Parker C (2023) Reframing High Street Viability: A review and synthesis in the English Context, Cities, 134, 104182

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in 20 Minute Neighbourhood, BIDS, Car Dependency, Car Use Reduction, community wealth building, Governance, Government, High Streets, Internet shopping, Local Authorities, Manchester, New Future for Scotland's Towns, Non-domestic rates, Online Retailing, Out of Town, Places, Retailers, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Social Renewal, Town Centres, Towns and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Towns, High Streets, Resilience and Place Governance

  1. Pingback: Towns and Resilience: A Totally Locally Follow-Up | Stirlingretail

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