London’s High Streets – Outer London ideas

Friday 16 March 2012

Sterling work is being done to revitalise London’s High Streets through 90 schemes kick-started by new regeneration money aimed at Outer London.

But the High Street of the future must think more in terms of ‘islands’ of shops than ‘parades’, pay attention to the public realm and adopt a collaborative approach with local communities and businesses.

Those were some of the key messages to emerge from a breakfast meeting at NLA this morning at which mayoral advisor Sir Peter Rogers, Design for London boss Mark Brearley and others discussed real actions being taken on the ground, armed with Outer London Fund and Mayor’s Fund money.

Rogers explained that the mayor’s agenda was to create ‘a place that London deserves to be’, using a pot of £110m of cash. The strategy adopted – to allow councils to ‘own’ the 90 projects across 26 boroughs supporting 2000 jobs by putting in their own money too – has managed to attract £60m of match funding. High quality design lay at the heart of the process, Rogers said, with shop fronts, public realm and improving access the main foci. A case in point was Tottenham, which now has three masterplans – one around the football stadium – along with ‘significant’ cash, and guidance, post-riot, from Sir Stuart Lipton. The first visible change in the area’s rebirth – a sign of what’s to come – will be bringing back the burnt-out council building as a ‘community hub’, said Rogers.

Brearley said that the High Street was a ‘surprisingly little-investigated area’, but that London’s 600 High Street ‘places’ are some of the capital’s most important spaces. DfL is studying a 51km corridor across the capital from Uxbridge to Romford, where 6,500 businesses have their frontage and which supports some 80,000 jobs – more than at Canary Wharf. ‘It’s where the life is in the city’, he said. ‘We need these places to be confident to succeed’. The ‘bold new approach to regeneration that is place-based’ is helping to regenerate London, locality by locality, he added. Furthermore, Town Centre Management, Brearley agreed with a questioner from the audience, was back in fashion.

Case studies presented at the breakfast session included the New Windows on Willesden Green project, which paired 25 shops with emerging designers to bring about effective makeovers, along with workshop and skills sessions, High Street events and partnerships with local organisations. ‘We’re really encouraging people to think differently about their high street’, said Brent’s Jane Harrison. Another was the work going on at Streatham and Norwood, presented by Lambeth’s Sandra Roebuck. Both centres were working to overturn problems of heavy traffic with shop front improvements, festivals, anti-social behaviour preventative measures such as Alert Boxes, and tree planting, all underpinned by close working with the local communities. Finally, the experience in west London was presented by Hounslow’s Ruth Cadbury, who showed the work being undertaken to better connect and improve Brentford’s ‘neglected and undervalued’ Town Centre. ‘Increasing vibrancy is obviously a key part of the task for all of us in our High Streets’, she said.

Rogers agreed, adding that much of the issue was about simply caring for places. ‘We need to move High Streets from survive, to thrive’, he said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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