Blake Morgan announces funding for city centre research


Posted on 4th September 2019
Law firm Blake Morgan has announced funding for the Southern Policy Centre to support research into the future use of urban centres in southern England.

The study, which will publish its results in early 2020, will focus on the urban centres of Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole, Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester.

The UK’s city and town centres are experiencing a period of radical change.  The challenges are well publicised.  The traditional retail offer on the high street is reducing rapidly (there was a net loss of around 4,400 high street outlets in the UK in the first six months of the year).  In some areas those gaps are being filled by new retail or cultural initiatives and some councils are supporting small local start-up businesses and encouraging community enterprise.  However, the urban centres comprise much more than just the retail offer.  The study aims to uncover the exciting opportunities that are available to reinvent the central south’s urban centres for the 21st century.  The evolving role of housing, transport, healthcare, education and culture in urban centres will be explored.

The foundation of the study will be quantitative research into changes in the retail sector, combined with an analysis of emerging local and national policies for urban centres.  The study will take a fresh approach to establishing the views of the users of urban centres on how they see the future and will include exploring:

  • trends in retail provision and consumer behaviour;
  • patterns of change in property rents and rates;
  • examples of changing patterns of use and innovative new approaches to urban centre management (both locally and nationally);
  • local policies towards city centre management and improvement (including regeneration and policies on change of use within city centres); and
  • national policy environment on urban centre regeneration.

The Southern Policy Centre will use a range of research techniques, including:

  • interviews with key stakeholders (local authorities, town centre managers, cultural service providers and property management professionals);
  • public engagement sessions designed to understand public perceptions of their urban centres, what use they make of them and their ideas for what urban centres might evolve to be in the future;
  • an electronic survey (promoted through social media and other channels) designed to capture the public perceptions on city centres as they are now and opportunities for the future (data to be analysed by age, gender, socio-economic background and geographic location); and
  • discussions with local businesses to understand business perceptions on the future role of urban centres.

Simon Eden, Director at the Southern Policy Centre, said: “This study offers an opportunity to understand how we can reverse the decline in fortunes so many of our town and city centres are experiencing. The future for these places may not be as shopping centres, but they certainly continue to be important for the economic and social fabric of the place. We’re grateful to Blake Morgan for supporting such an exciting project.”

Daniel Curtis, partner at Blake Morgan, says: “We’re delighted to be supporting this project and explore how the future of the region’s major urban centres can evolve.  The current challenges that urban centres face is well documented; but this presents a real opportunity to re-imagine what our urban centres are used for.  How will the role of housing, transport, healthcare, education and culture in urban centres evolve?  What opportunities will be created?  We are particularly keen to obtain a wide and diverse range of opinions and are particularly excited about the public engagement sessions that should generate new views and opinions from the users of the urban centres.”

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