Destination stations: the role of railways in regeneration

King’s Cross Station, London © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

From Roman roads, to Victorian ‘cathedrals of steam’, transport has played a pivotal role in the development of societies and economies throughout history.

Today, rising energy prices, road congestion, and climate change, as well as reduced household sizes and an increased demand for urban living have put the potential benefits of urban transport hubs back in the spotlight.

Transit-orientated development

Transit-orientated development (TOD) is one response. An American-concept, it involves the creation of high-density mixed-use developments around a transit station or stop, such as a railway station, usually within a half-mile radius (a 10-minute walk approximately).  It may include office space, retail, leisure facilities and housing, as well as public areas and green space, and a variety of public transport options.

The aim is to create attractive, diverse, walkable places.  TOD can also help to significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Stations as ‘destinations’

In Europe, TOD has yet to ‘catch on’. However, it shares many similar principles with the increasingly popular concept of developing railway stations as destinations in their own right – for shopping, working and socialising.  Railways often form an important part of a town or city centre, and the combination of transport node and central location has the potential to attract people in great numbers.

The redevelopment of London King’s Cross station and the surrounding industrial wasteland made it one of the first ‘destination stations’ in the UK.  Around the station, new homes, shops, offices, galleries, bars, restaurants, a hotel, schools and a university were created, along with 20 new streets, 10 new public parks and squares, and 26 acres of open space.  In fact, the redevelopment was on such a scale that the area now has its own postcode – N1C.

Some other key examples of newly developed ‘destination stations’ in the UK include Manchester Victoria Station and Birmingham New Street Station. Network Rail last year stated that they intend to create many more such ‘destination stations’.

Economic and social benefits

As well as environmental benefits such as reduced air pollution and traffic congestion, mixed-use developments in and around railway stations can help meet housing demand, and spur the economic and social regeneration of their surrounding communities.  Particular benefits can include:

  • Improved passenger experience/satisfaction
  • Attracting more businesses into an area
  • Improving the supply of labour for businesses
  • New job creation
  • Increased demand for food, retail and leisure facilities from greater numbers of commuters, residents and workers
  • Helping high streets to compete with online retailers and out of town developments
  • Contributing to public health goals through increased walkability of areas
  • Making good use of previously inaccessible/waste land

Government support

There is strong government support for delivering improvements around railway stations.

The recent Housing white paper recognises the regenerative potential of railway stations, viewing them as key anchors for the next generation of urban housing developments.

Two new sources of funding for railway station developments have also recently been announced: the second round of the New Stations Fund – a £20 million pot to build new stations or reopen previously closed stations; and the Station Regeneration programme – which aims to develop railway stations and surrounding land, while delivering up to 10,000 new homes.

Alongside this, there are also plans to release large amounts of unused railway land for housing – enough to build 12,000 houses across 200 sites.

Large and small

In addition to developments focused around one particular station or city, there are also a number of major railway-based infrastructure projects currently taking place.  Among these are the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (including recently approved plans to redevelop Glasgow Queen Street station), Great Western Electrification, Crossrail and HS2.  All of these have the potential to catalyse regeneration in their surrounding areas.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also a number of successful smaller scale regeneration projects involving railways.

Addressing the challenges

The development of railway sites can pose a number of challenges, including contaminated land, fragmented land ownership and reconciling short-term economic development goals with the longer time scales necessary in larger infrastructure projects.

However, according to James Harris, a policy officer at the Royal Town Planning Institute, planners are ‘uniquely’ placed to work with landowners, infrastructure providers, developers and the local community to help deliver a strategic vision for these locations.

Planners should also be flexible and creative in their approach towards station redevelopments, focusing on outcomes rather than processes, says David Crook, assistant director of station regeneration at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Cities and Local Growth Unit.  In doing so, he says, planners can help make a station regeneration project ‘more than the sum of its parts’.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in our blog post ‘Reimagining travel: how can data technologies create better journeys?

The economy and Brexit – what’s next?

money-economics-growth

By Heather Cameron

‘Uncertainty and volatility’ – these were two key terms highlighted at a recent event focusing on the impact of Brexit on the economy, hosted by STEP Stirling.

Following the historic decision of the UK to leave the European Union and all the press that has ensued, it was interesting to hear from experts in the field on what they believe the true impact will be.

Speaker: David Bell, Professor of Economics, University of Stirling

Professor David Bell from Stirling University delivered the first presentation, providing an overview of the key economic implications of Brexit.

David suggested that the negative impacts from a leave vote have not materialised as predicted, noting that “the economics of Brexit has moved at a slower pace than the politics.” Many predicted that there would be an immediate impact on the economy and on consumer confidence, but this hasn’t happened. Retail sales have shown no signs of collapse, with recent research actually showing growth.

Nevertheless, David noted that things were different for businesses, which are experiencing a lot of uncertainty. He indicated that this business uncertainty has dragged UK business output and optimism to a three year low.

What is clear, is that there has been a significant depreciation in Sterling which is unlikely to be reversed in the short to medium term. David considered the implications of this, including that we are poorer, more time will be spent working to benefit smaller businesses, there is lower borrowing costs and it is bad news for pensions.

David also highlighted the issues around the UK’s deficit in goods and surplus in services and trade agreements, which are particularly complicated. To conclude, David acknowledged that negotiations will be difficult and that we will be in the same position for some time to come – with a lot of uncertainty.

Speaker: Craig Wilson, Senior Director Treasury Solutions North England & Scotland at Clydesdale Bank

Following David, was Craig Wilson from the Clydesdale Bank. He considered the impact of Brexit from a financial markets perspective.

To begin, Craig highlighted that what was surprising about the Brexit vote was that ‘the bookies were wrong’, with odds as much as 2/9 suggesting an 82% probability of a remain victory. He noted that the immediate reaction, as similarly highlighted by David, was a drop in Sterling. He said:

“We had a reaction to a recession without the recession taking place.”

Craig also highlighted what has happened since the vote in terms of GBP/Euro stats, interest rate cuts and the price of Brent oil. Interestingly, Brexit hasn’t been shown to have affected commodities as oil prices only dropped slightly and have now increased again.

In agreement with David, Craig argued that there will be a negative impact on the economy in the short to medium term. Economists have cut UK GDP growth going forward to just 1%. Craig suggested that house prices will be important because if they hold up, consumer confidence is likely to remain.

The future, however, was also emphasised as uncertain by Craig. He highlighted that there are lots of variables, both within the UK and abroad, including:

  • UK data
  • Public perception and consumer sentiment
  • Recession?
  • Bank of England monetary policy – will there be more cuts?
  • Negotiations – timing of these, will they be positive or negative?
  • House of Commons/Lords may ignore the vote
  • The US presidential elections
  • US interest rate increases?
  • The Italian debt crisis
  • Emerging markets

In conclusion, Craig suggested the one thing to take away is that so many factors will make the markets volatile.


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Evolution or revolution … the challenge of delivering future high streets

The crisis facing our high streets and town centres shows no sign of ending, with end-of-year figures revealing that December was the ninth consecutive month in which shopper footfall declined. The vacancy rate of high street premises also continues to be high – an estimated one in nine premises are lying empty across the UK.

This data suggests a systemic problem for present-day retailing and town centres. The causes are complex including business locational strategies, planning decision-making, consumer spending and expectations, household debt, technology and online shopping opportunities. In addition, inquiries such as the Scottish National Review of Town Centres and the Future High Street Forum evidence review, have shown that town centres remain a pressing planning challenge, with strategic and local ramifications in terms of economic, social and environmental well-being.

Making our town centres more resilient will require changing our attitudes to the use and management of these spaces. They need to deliver a mixed and diverse economy, and provide social experiences not just retail. But while this message seems to be accepted, putting it into practice seems to be more problematic.

Policies into practice

At a policy level, the National Review of Town Centres in Scotland asserted the case for a deliberate ‘town centre first’ principle to stem the leeching of investment and retailing activity to out of town locales. The review also advocated the diversification of town centre activities, including provision of residential uses and affordable housing. This was broadly accepted by the Scottish Government; and the Town Centre First principle, agreed with COSLA, to discharge a ‘collective responsibility to help town centres thrive sustainably, reinvent their function, and meet the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors for the 21st century’ sums up this ambition.

Meanwhile Paragraph 23 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), along with the revised National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) on town centre development and planning, recognises town centres as being at the heart of communities.

Addressing complexity

In practice, however, the ongoing failure of many high streets suggests that they are not transforming at the rate or scale that is needed.

Positive, organised and strategic (joined up) intervention, working across the public and private sectors, seems to be the only way to address a highly complex matter. Initiatives such as business improvement districts (BIDs) have been trialling new ways of managing and marketing successful town centres. A report last year from the Centre for Policy Studies looked at the positive impact of the 41 BIDs within London – 7.6% of London firms and over 11% of the total London workforce were located in BID areas.

The report noted that outside of London and Scotland, property owners cannot financially contribute to the measure. Business tenants tend to demonstrate relatively more short-term approaches to the development of the BID, so rolling out of property owner BIDs across England could be a way to maximise the full potential of the business-led measure.

Applying lessons from London to other parts of the country can be problematic however – after all, London is a city and a city-region with a very marked concentration of economic and political power in terms of investment, spending power and employment. The experience there of economic resilience does not resonate with the circumstances elsewhere across England and the UK.

Moreover, BIDs involve not simply economic considerations but complex issues around governance, democracy and transparency. Understanding the challenges of town centres must involve an appreciation of market decisions and the unintended consequences of government actions to address those very problems.

The barriers created by complexity were also raised last month in a report arguing for town centre investment zones to align initiatives and unlock improvement. Pooling a critical mass of property assets into an investment vehicle could allow area-wide problems to be tackled.

The community dimension

What seems to be missing from the town centre debate at the moment is a specific focus on the causes of a tangible malaise – the loss of community in many urban areas. The BID concept could very well be a compelling one, but a wider and more informed political conversation is needed before we dismantle all public interest considerations.

And so the conundrum at the heart of our towns and cities remains … how do we create and maintain vibrant places that people want to work and live in, when our planning and economic policies are still geared towards prioritising growth over wellbeing?

And how do we transform our high streets in a strategic way, to meet the needs of 21st century living?


This blog draws on the article by Professor Greg Lloyd that first appeared in Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal: Greg Lloyd (2015) High streets again! SPEL 172, pp124-125

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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)

Town centres first?

boarded up shop

© Copyright michael ely and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

by Dorothy Laing

Has the town centre first policy failed in its attempt to restore vitality to Britain’s failing high streets?

Town centres and high streets across Britain have been suffering from the combined effects of the increase in online shopping, car parking issues, increasing business rates, and the impact of the recession, as well as the challenges of out-of town centres.

The benefits of vibrant town centres have been well documented by Portas, Grimsey and Fraser who have all Continue reading