Residents across Southern England call for a greater say in the future of their city centres

Posted on 20th November 2020

Residents and businesses across Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester have revealed their overwhelming desire for a greater say in the future of their city centres, with more local control and investment to build greener sustainable places according to research published today (20 Nov) by Blake Morgan and the Southern Policy Centre.

Research shows:

  • 78 per cent of Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester residents want to see healthier, greener city centres that reflect local history and culture – not ‘identikit’ high streets
  • 52 per cent of residents want to see public transport improved and more pedestrianisation, so people can get around more safely
  • Only 36.5 per cent of residents see the improvement of the city centre as a job for central government, with 99 per cent desiring local council control of cities’ regeneration
  • 75 per cent of residents would pay more tax to improve their city centre

Re-imagining Tomorrow’s City Centre ­– produced by Blake Morgan and the Southern Policy Centre – explores how residents and businesses across Bournemouth, Poole, Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester use their city centres, and how they want to see them change in the future – particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report highlights the importance of variety and diversity in modern city centres, ensuring they are carefully planned and managed to offer more than rows of identical shops. There is a strong desire for city centres to retain a feeling of individuality and a distinctive character reflecting their heritage and history.  Participants in the discussions called for city centres to be “seen as part of the unique character of a city”, making clear that their area’s history is something to leverage when considering development and regeneration.

Interviewees also wanted to see a wider diversity of uses, from retail to work and leisure, with housing for all.  Participants spoke of the need for an array of facilities to be available in city centres – so they can be a place to live, work and socialise.  They told the Southern Policy Centre they didn’t want to see their city centres become exclusive retreats for the rich and wealthy, they should offer something for everyone.  Many spoke of the desire to maintain a sense of community, fearing that ‘regeneration’ could become synonymous with ‘the privatisation of public space’.

For many, sustainability and the environment are key issues.  78 per cent of respondents wanted to see more vegetation and greenery, and 52 per cent said they wished it were easier to get to by public transport, with streets improved for pedestrians.  This desire for sustainability leads to some calling for ’15-minute cities’ – where day-to-day needs can be met within the immediate locality.

The report concludes that we need a fresh approach to shaping the future. We need to ‘curate’ city centres, bringing business, councils and residents together to create a vibrant mix of uses and facilities, to make our city centres, in the words of one participant “interesting places you don’t just need to visit, you want to”. Most thought local councils should be leading this re-imagination of these key places, with 75 per cent of respondents to the survey saying they would be willing to pay more in taxation to shape tomorrow’s city centre.

Daniel Curtis, Partner in Blake Morgan’s real estate team based in Southampton said:

At a time when many fear for the future of their high streets and city centres, this report demonstrates a strong resolve from the residents of southern England to build back better – to use these turbulent times as an opportunity to redefine their cities. This can only be achieved with a focus on each city’s culture and heritage and enacted by power devolved to local authorities. Cities throughout Britain face a host of challenges, and it is only by understanding these challenges that we can effectively plan for a better future.

Dr Simon Eden, Director, Southern Policy Centre said: “Reimagining our city centres is no easy task.  But the results of this report are clear that the demand is there from local residents – with a clear wish to live in greener, cleaner, better connected communities.  We should regard principles such as character, sustainability and community as the cornerstones of the post-Covid recovery and drivers of future development in cities across southern England.”

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