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The decline of many British High Streets is seldom out of the news but a new North East research project aims to look at what could be done to help breathe new life into them and help their regeneration.

North East England Chamber of Commerce, Chamber, in association with planning and development consultancy Lichfields has begun a major project looking at town centres in the North East. 

The project aims to look at the way town centres are changing and how retailers, leisure operators, planners and policy makers should react to support them.  It will look at physical infrastructure, buildings and some common issues as well as best practice in using planning powers and regeneration tools to tackle problems.  The project will also examine the effectiveness of initiatives such as business improvement districts (BIDS), major regeneration initiatives and the impact they have had on the retail environment. 

Rachel Anderson, Chamber head of policy and representation said: “We will be looking at a range of issues which impact on High Street prosperity including demographics and how shoppers and shopping patterns are changing with the move to internet shopping.   There will also be an examination of the shift to shopping as a leisure activity and the move in building use away from retail to leisure uses in terms of bars restaurants and hotels.  The shift represents challenge but also opportunity and how town centres respond will be crucial to their future.”

Lichfields Senior Director Jonathan Wallace, the head of its Newcastle office said:

“Lichfields has extensive experience and expertise in developing strategies to enhance the vitality and viability of the UK’s evolving high streets.

“We are witnessing unprecedented challenges for all stakeholders involved in supporting the region’s town centres and this joint project between ourselves and the Chamber will aim to inform this process.” 

Four High Street stores closed every week in the North East in 2017, according to research published last week by the Local Data Company.

In recent moves to support the nation’s High Streets the Government has introduced permitted development rights to avoid premises being left vacant.  The proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) would require local planning authorities to actively support the viability and vitality of retail centres.

For the first phase of the joint project a number of roundtable discussions with retailers, leisure sector operators, property agents, occupiers of town centre office space and planners will take place.  These events, which are open to all Chamber members, will take place in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Berwick and Hexham.

In the North East, Lichfields’ 40-strong Newcastle office works across all development sectors for a wide range of clients including major stakeholders in the region’s town centres such as Intu and M&S.

Any businesses which would like to get involved in the project and attend one of the roundtable events should contact Rachel.anderson@neechamber.co.uk

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