Struggling high streets face a fight for survival after new analysis by the District Councils Network (DCN) found that the number of planning applications for new retail units has almost halved in five years.
There were 1,258 applications received by district councils for retail and service developments in the year ending June 2019, down from 2,216 in the year ending June 2015.
DCN, which represents 191 district councils, says the figures show that high streets are in a state of “emergency”.
However, Stockport Council are striving to counter the current trend by introducing a Mayoral Development Corporation – the region’s first Mayoral Development Corporation – MDC – and the first such initiative in the UK to focus on a town centre.
Through the MDC, development sites can be unlocked to accelerate the speed of transformation and assist in tackling the changes and challenges faced by town centres throughout the UK.
In Stockport, this will be by creating new urban communities that will ensure the future sustainability and viability of the town centre and have a positive impact on attracting investment in residential, services and retail.
The analysis of government figures for England also shows planning applications for new housing have slumped to a four-year low.
District councils received 31,073 applications for new homes in 2019 – the lowest since 2015.
DCN says the figures reflect the ongoing economic uncertainty and falling confidence from developers in the housing market.
It is calling on the Government to give all districts the long term funding they need to revive high streets, and to give them flexibility to raise finance locally for instance to set business rates relief.
In addition, the DCN is calling on the Government to ensure the continuation of the New Homes Bonus – money for areas where new homes are built – to ensure councils have the funding to deliver services and attract the new investment critical to thriving communities.
Cllr Mark Crane, DCN Lead for Stronger Economies, said:
“These figures paint a worrying picture about the future of UK high streets and town centres, and highlights the uphill battle we face tackling the housing crisis.
“There are huge opportunities to reshape places into thriving community, cultural and employment hubs – by investing in new housing, infrastructure, services and events.
“However, district councils, which are responsible for delivering housing and improving high streets, need the funding certainty and powers to transform town centres, to attract investment into infrastructure, and to build new homes.
“While there is a growing amount of energy and schemes invested in tackling these issues from Whitehall, the national complexity and focus on short term results risks under-utilising the ambitions of district councils to deliver change over the long-term.
“Without new powers and long term funding for local areas, our country will continue to struggle to turn around our town centres and face real difficulties tackling the housing crisis.”
The District Councils’ Network (DCN) is a cross-party member led network providing a single voice to 191 district councils. District councils in England deliver 86 out of 137 essential local government services to over 22 million people – 40 per cent of the population – and cover 68 per cent of the country by area. They play a key role in local communities, providing services such as building homes, collecting waste, regenerating town centres, preventing homelessness, keeping streets clean and maintaining parks.
Full set of planning figures available HERE