Supporting regeneration and creative start-ups … what can we learn from Hackney?

View of Amazon HQBy Morwen Johnson

A traditional pub, standing alone in the midst of a massive development site in East London. The photo above, taken at the end of June, seems to sum up dramatic changes that are being replicated all across London as regeneration transforms many Boroughs. Social and community regeneration, however, does not inevitably follow from investment in commercial property development. And ensuring that local communities benefit, and are not displaced or excluded by processes of gentrification, can be a tough balancing act.

I recently went on a study tour within Hackney, organised as part of the RTPI Convention in June, to understand how the council’s planning and regeneration team have been working to attract investment into the area and tying this in to employment support and small business growth.

Rapid economic growth but continuing deprivation

A number of high profile major site developments are underway in Hackney, including multiple hotels and the new Amazon HQ. This has gone hand-in-hand with its emergence in the last few years as an attractive location for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Hackney experienced a business growth rate of 40% between 2004 and 2012, 17% higher than London as a whole. The population of the Borough has also grown from approximately 265,000 in 2006 to an estimated 310,000 in 2015. A report from Tech City published last month also highlighted the importance of the key sectors of creative, technology and business services in the local economy – they make up 37% of all employment in Hackney and 54% of its 11,000 businesses.

It’s worth noting, however, that this economic success has come at a time when Hackney still has some of the highest levels of deprivation and poverty in London. For example, in 2016, 30% of nursery and primary school pupils are eligible for and claiming free school meals, rising to 33% at secondary level (London Datastore).

Vibrancy of the area at risk?

The improved perception of the area, while welcome, is pushing up property and rental prices. And now, as start-ups and small businesses risk being priced out of Hackney, it is important for the area to retain the ability to host start-ups. One solution is ‘meanwhile use’ – the temporary use of vacant buildings or sites, especially for community projects.

Hackney council has engaged with local developers and property partners to create innovative and cost-effective spaces on a temporary basis to promote local business, employment and culture.  Hackney House on Curtain Road is just one example – the building provides a café and bar area, as well as exhibition and meeting space for hire. Wi-fi and desk space is available for not-for-profit organisations and start-ups to use, and regular events encourage business networking. The project won the Best Town Centre project at the London Planning Awards in February 2016.

The council suggests that while it’s important to keep businesses in the area, the core aim should “be to keep projects innovative and exciting”. Some churn is inevitable and councils should “extend both a platform and an open mind to its current local business communities”.

Ways into work

Another example of collaboration which has delivered cost effective assets to support the local community is The Opportunity Hub on Pitfield Street. The council has been working to develop its role as a broker between the private sector and community sector to create jobs and training for local people. The Opportunity Hub sits next to a large housing estate and research showed that nearly a quarter of residents local to the Hub had never used the internet.

Previously a community centre that was only being used for two hours a week, the building has been redesigned to offer an antithesis to job centres. As well as having space for training or employer recruitment sessions, there is free hot-desking space. A team of information and guidance advisors are available and focus on getting local people ‘job-ready’. They also engage with local businesses to promote apprenticeships. Touchingly, the local group of women who used the previous centre for afternoon bingo now use the Hub space instead.

Hackney collateral

Looking to the future

It’s clear that the council in Hackney aren’t resting on their laurels. As well as continuing to use Section 106 as a tool to ensure larger businesses moving into the area will offer jobs to local unemployed people, they are planning another Opportunity Hub in the foyer of a local library. They are also looking at new ideas to provide space for temporary uses, such as the untapped potential of over 2000 empty garages in the area.

Close relationships between planning professionals, town centre managers and the business development teams appear to have helped the council to use regeneration to benefit the local community.


Read more about Hackney’s three year framework to promote enterprise and regeneration in the Tech City Best Practice report.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read some of our other blogs on regeneration:

Not dead, evolving – high streets of the future

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Image Grand Arcade, Leeds, Gunnar Larsson via GNU Free Documentaion License

This week, individuals from local councils, town teams, business improvement districts (BIDs) and industry bodies will come together to share and learn from high street revitalisation success stories as part of the Future High Street Summit. The Summit, set up by retail expert and high street campaigner Clare Rayner in 2014, refutes claims that the ‘high street is dead’. It argues that far from being dead, it is instead ‘evolving’.

Looking at recent headlines, one would be forgiven for believing the high street was in terminal decline. For example, it was recently reported that in a study of multiple retailers across 500 towns, the net loss of stores in 2014 was nearly three times greater than in 2013 (987 compared to 371).

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the main challenges facing the high street include:

  • pressures on prices exerted by online retailers and large grocery stores;
  • increased costs, including business rates, rents, and the introduction of the minimum wage;
  • the ease and cost of starting an online business compared to a business on the high street;
  • the digital delivery of some products (music, books etc) removing the demand for high street music shops.
  • access and parking restrictions/costs in town centres
  • the growth in ‘out of town’ retail parks and large supermarkets
  • the lack of diversity, i.e. ‘Clone town’ syndrome

Showrooming’ – when shoppers look at products in store, then buy the product online from a different supplier – has also been identified as another potential threat to high street stores.

So given these challenges, does the high street really have a future?

According to Mary Portas it does.  In her recent reflections on the progress made since her 2011 review of how government, local authorities and businesses could better promote the development of more prosperous and diverse high streets, she argues against predictions of the high street’s demise.

She cites research by Deloitte, which found that 38% of people still visit their high street almost daily, and that that a significant proportion of people continue to use their local high street, particularly to top up on groceries (59%), buy health and beauty, and pharmacy products (55%), and buy shoes and clothes (50%). She also notes that a significant number of people reported visiting the high street to use the library (44%).

Indeed, even the statistics show some cause for positivity. The Local Data Company, which publishes a ‘End of Year Vacancy Report’ in February each year, recently reported a downward trend in shop vacancy rates, from 14.5% in February 2012, to 13.4% in May 2014 – the lowest rate since 2010.

Commenting on these figures, Clare Rayner, organiser of the Future High Street Summit, notes:

“Figures from LDC/bira show that high street vacancy rates have dropped a little; but the national averages mask the detail, which interestingly shows that there has been a net gain in independents and a loss in multiples. To me it’s clear that smaller businesses and independent retailers are the ones who are keeping our high streets alive – so it is essential they get the support they need from the relevant authorities and place managers.”

So what can high streets do to support independent retailers?

In Rotherham, Mary notes that mystery shoppers have been used to help local businesses improve their standards, by providing advice on quality, store layout and pricing. Local shop owners have been offered social media training, and there has been a ‘shop local’ campaign, showcasing the range of independent shops available. A ‘pop up high street’ has also been run at various locations, including council offices, retail parks, hospitals and local events, and town centre parking charges have been frozen.

BoxPark is another great example of support for small independent shops. It is a ‘pop up shopping mall’ in Shoreditch, London, created entirely from containers, and houses a variety of different independent retailers, artists and craftspeople.

In his book, ‘How to save our town centres: a radical agenda for the future of high streets’, Julian Dobson highlights Handpicked Hall, in Leeds, as a key example of good practice. Set up in October 2012 in a vacant department store, it opened up the space to a host of local producers, including “craftspeople, artists, food makers, fashion designers, a woman who wanted to open a vintage tea salon and even a man selling carnivorous plants. People that wouldn’t fit within a traditional market and couldn’t afford to kit out a shop of their own… None could have borne the cost of trading in a traditional high street shop.” (Dobson, 2015:109).

Unfortunately, Handpicked Hall closed in 2014, however, the majority of the retailers within it moved into the Grand Arcade. According to local business owner, Claire Riley, co-owner of Our Handmade Collective, “Taking the empty units within the Arcade has actually turned a forgotten and empty shopping arcade around, and we’re now proud to call the Grand Arcade the Home of the Independents.”

As well as support for local independent retailers, the high street also needs to evolve to address the challenge of e-commerce. According to Mark Hudson, retail leader at PWC, “The future can be seen by watching the ‘digital natives’ at work and play – those who have grown up with online shopping, mobile phones and ubiquitous broadband have a very different relationship with traditional high streets than the previous generations. Rather than try to recreate the past, the high street needs to evolve to be relevant to the future.”

In Ashford, they have sought to address this challenge by using technology to promote the town centre. They aim to develop a ‘digital high street’, which will take the format of an innovative website and app that will guide visitors through the town, providing special offers, and ‘click and collect’ features for all the businesses.

Of course, the high street has an importance far beyond retail. It also has a wider role providing services and meeting places, including libraries, health centres, tourist information centres, bus and rail stations, education centres, post offices, workspaces and meeting rooms.

Recent examples of such high street services include the relocation of Dorking library to the high street, the provision of creative craft classes in Leeds, meeting space for mothers and their children in Bristol, workspace for artists in London and short term respite services for children with disabilities in Bristol, Cheltenham and Swindon.

As Julian Dobson notes: “A high street, and wider town centre within which it sits, is far more than simply a collection of parcels of individually or publicly owned land, shops and highways. It is the heart that keeps a place alive.” (Dobson, 2015:256).

Sharing and learning from good practice, through events such as the Future High Streets Summit and the Great British High Street competition, is a key way of ensuring that the high street remains very much alive and relevant for the foreseeable future.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on regenerating high streets, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Propping up the market? (temporary retailing), IN Estates Gazette, No 1505 7 Feb 2015 (A53773)

Digital High Street Advisory Board (2015) Digital high street 2020 report (B41351)

Dobson, J (2015) How to save our town centres: a radical agenda for the future of high streets. London: Policy Press. (B41359)

PricewaterhouseCoopers (2014) The changing face of retail: where did all the shops go? (B37238 )

Resurrecting the high street (regenerating town centres), IN Local Government Executive, 16 Oct 2014 (A52351)

Town Teams, Portas Pilots and the future of the high street, IN Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal, Vol 7 No 3 Spring 2014 (A49469)

Institute for Retail Studies (2014) Town centre and high street reviews (The Retail Planning Knowledge Base briefing paper) (B38740)

Wrigley, N and Lambiri, D (2014) High street performance and evolution: a brief guide to the evidence (B38664)

Mayor of London (2014) Learning from London’s high streets: a collection of essays, case studies, learning and inspiration (B38523)

Future High Streets Forum (2014) Good leadership: great high streets (B37725)

IDOX (2014) Town centres in Scotland: changing policy and practice (In focus) (B37581)

Enterprise Zones … did they work then, will they work now?

Modern office building

by Laura Dobie

In this article we look at past and present incarnations of Enterprise Zones, their potential to create jobs and growth, and issues to address in policy approaches.

Past experiences and lessons learned

The Enterprise Zone concept emerged in the UK in the 1970s. They were conceived by the planning academic Peter Hall, with the idea that removing all obstacles faced by businesses, such as regulation and bureaucracy, would allow enterprise to prosper, prompting a surge in the number of companies, employment levels and incomes in areas which had been ravaged by industrial decline and restructuring.

Enterprise Zones were created in the UK between 1981 and 1996 and were mostly concentrated in areas of post-industrial decline on the outskirts of towns and cities. The policy, as it was implemented, departed somewhat from the original, free-for-all vision: the zones concentrated on built environment challenges and the use of capital-based grants and rebates to drive growth.

The incentives offered included:

  • 100 percent tax allowances for capital expenditure on constructing, improving or extending commercial or industrial buildings;
  • Exemption from Business Rates for industrial and commercial premises;
  • Simplified planning procedures;
  • Exemption from industrial training levies;
  • Faster processing of applications for firms requiring warehousing free of Customs duties;
  • A reduction in government requests for statistical information.

The Department for Environment’s final evaluation found that approximately 126,000 jobs were created, of which up to 58,000 were additional, and that additionality was highest for manufacturing and lowest for retailing and distribution activity. It estimated that the cost per additional job created was around £17,000 (£26,000 at current prices), assuming a ten year job life, and that over than £2 billion (1994/95 prices) of private capital was invested in property on the Enterprise Zones, a public to private leverage ratio of about 1 to 2.3.

However, Enterprise Zones have been subject to much criticism, and it has been argued that, overall, they did not produce a lasting recovery in investment and employment. (Danson, 2013, p17). Critics have highlighted the displacement effects of Enterprise Zones, i.e. that many jobs created in Enterprise Zones were displaced from other areas (Sissons and Brown, 2011), and the expensiveness of the policy (Larkin and Wilcox, 2011).

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