Timpson report: Grassroots approach needed to rejuvenate high streets

Timpson high streets

Retail experts have said a community-focused approach is needed to tackle the challenges plaguing high streets and town centres across the UK.

According to The High Street Report published today, the government was urged to empower local leaders and communities to reinvent town centres through an “Upside Down Government” approach.

This entails giving community figures the power to design and implement their plans for future town centres that recreate a “community hub”.

These community hubs would consist of leisure and social services sitting alongside retail and residential property.

The report was put together by a government-appointed panel of high street experts who were asked to advise on how ailing high streets could be saved. The panel was led by Sir John Timpson, the chairman of the eponymous shoe repair retailer.

Timpson said UK retail would not return to the high streets that existed 10 or 20 years ago, but the report made suggestions to help places overcome the “difficult structural issues and changes” they faced.

Some of these recommendations are immediate measures, such as a “National High Street Perfect Day”, whereby local communities come together for a day each year to tackle litter and graffiti so they can take ownership of ensuring their town centre looked as good as possible.

The report also re-iterated the £675 million already announced in the Budget for the Future High Streets Fund, which would go towards high street improvements at a local level to improve public spaces and transport links.

Timpson and his panel also encouraged local communities to think creatively about empty properties and welcomed the government’s Open Doors scheme which opens empty shops to community groups.

Finally, it recommended the creation of a Town Centre Task Force to support local leaders to act as a single voice in finding unique solutions for communities.

“Everyone can improve high street and town centre housekeeping through a determined campaign to eliminate litter and graffiti,” Timpson wrote in The High Street Report.

“Our suggestion is to have a ‘National High Street Perfect Day’ – one day in the year when every shopping street looks the best it possibly can.

“This should be a locally-led and funded initiative that draws on expertise from a range of partners.”

Timpson also wrote that the reports’ recommendations of re-imagining town centres should not be seen as a “central programme dictated by government”.

“It is a series of locally-inspired and led initiatives that are supported by a government that offers information and helps to clear obstacles out of the way,” he said.

“I think of it as ‘Upside Down Government’: providing help on a town by town basis, enabling local leaders to design future town centres that recreate a community hub.”

In a statement accompanying the report, Timspon added: “When the panel was formed, we knew high streets would never be the same again, but we were delighted to discover places where imaginative developments have increased footfall and reduced the number of empty shops.

“By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.

“I have learnt, from my own business, that the best way to get things done is to give people on the front line the freedom to get on with the job in the way they know best.

“We are applying the same ‘Upside Down Government’ principle to the development of our town centres, with our Town Centre Task Force there to mentor, encourage and clear any obstacles out of the way while giving the clear message to inspirational local leaders that they are free to turn their plans into reality.”

While the British Retail Consortium (BRC) welcomed the recommendations in The High Street Report, it highlighted the persistent issue of high business rates despite what was announced in the recent Budget.

“The creation of the £675 million high street fund, announced at the Budget, to support the transformation of high streets and town centres is a welcome recognition of the need to support our commercial areas as they work to ensure that they remain relevant and commercially vibrant in the future,” BRC business director Tom Ironside said.

“The final report contains strong advice on how to ensure that that funding is used to best effect, notably through the oversight of the High Streets Taskforce and practical measures for local leaders to implement in their local areas.

“At the same time, it is essential that the government takes additional robust steps to provide real support to struggling high streets.

“Most importantly, wholesale reform of business rates is needed for our towns and high streets in order to thrive.

“The issue remains that the business rates burden is simply too high and disproportionately impacts the retail industry.”

High streets minister Jake Berry said: “We have already taken action by announcing plans to set up a Future High Streets Fund and Task Force, alongside slashing business rates for up to a third of small retailers.

“We will carefully consider these recommendations.”

Click here to sign up to Retail Gazette‘s free daily email newsletter


  1. Why do we hear so much about the business rates being the main issue for retailers as reported by the media; what about the rents? If landlords were made to pay full rates on any commercial property where they are not being paid by tenants, we might see landlords becoming more realistic about the rent levels for current and new tenants. This policy would also increase the tax income at a stroke without further damaging consumers or retailers given the profits of the property funds will all be ‘managed’ off-shore anyway.

    There is a further point to be made here. Given the extremely uncertain future for high street retail, having no option other than to enter into long-term leases with no break clause is a barrier to entry for an increasing number of new and established retailers. Long-term leases maybe, but needs to be a requirement for annual break clauses.

    I had high hopes for the Timpson report, but it sadly falls way short of what I had hoped would offer a range of solid proposals, all-be-it unpopular to a minority, which would go some way to address the long-term continued demise of the high street.

    • Landlords do have to pay full vacant rates and service charges. There is absolutely no incentive to keep properties empty in the hope of commanding higher rents.

      Given that about 70-80 of high streets are owned by U.K. institutions and pension funds your comments regarding off shoring is plainly wrong.

      You mention uncertainty for retailers and the need for yearly breaks. That would simply create uncertainty for landlords and developers and commercial properties would not be built and maintained. There is absolutely no need to legislate for this, tenants more often than not are able to negotiate breaks given the fact there is an over supply of space and tenants can dictate the terms. In this regard the market is regulating itself as it often does.

      It astounds me how much misinformation exists around property and how too many people seem to fundamentally not understand how markets function.

  2. Landlords with Listed property, which accounts for much of the high street in the UK, are exempt from paying rates when those premises are vacant.

  3. As usual for this type report, there is no mention of parking. As long as car parks are not centrally-located, plentiful, reasonably-priced and safe, customers will not come in sufficient numbers. “I’ll just pop into town” is not encouraged by having to use poor public transport or park and rides.

  4. Lack of parking spaces in Harpenden is a major concern. The Town’s population has grown steadily over the last 30 years without any major increase in parking spaces. As a consequence commuters now park in many side roads within a 10 min walk to the station, meaning there are few spaces left for shoppers. A second tier at the Station car park was rejected 2 years ago due to lack of Government funding. Most new building (government imposed) is over 20 mins walk from the town centre so not at all practical to carry shopping home. SOLUTION – Multi Storey Car Parks. Great idea “as long as it isn’t in my road”.

  5. Small Medium Towns – future Must accept Brits feed off VALUE FOR MONEY so need real incentives to visit ……
    Parking all towns(excl cities 1st HOUR
    Why ?
    Encourage town short visit

    Space above shops to go residential as nil value currently to landlords only value Ground Fl zone A /B create prevailing rents

    Old markets simply allowed UK M&S suppliers to overproduce and sell to market traders – a market should still be trading / eating a la Altrincham Nic Johnson/
    Bargain zone with contributions from locals – focussed on eg Baby Day, Sport items Day, Local Sports clubs 1 day low price entrance fees for year
    Estate Agent Day – 1 day specials

    For retailers they achieve bigger footfall into their towns
    Lift awareness of local groups operating in area who can’t afford advertising and suffering with 2018 demise of door to door free sheet delivery


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here