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Town centre first policies should be scrapped, says Policy Exchange

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The influential think-tank has called upon the government to scrap town centre first planning policy to bring high streets back to life

The right-leaning think-tank has said policies intended to revive Britain’s ailing high streets are raising the cost of living.

The town centre first policy was introduced in the mid-nineties in an attempt to limit the development of out of town shopping centres. But the report claims it has ‘decreased competition between retailers and damaged the social fabric of many communities’.

The think-tank has suggested that councils with poorly run high streets which have the ‘potential to flourish’ should have their powers removed and transferred to management companies with retail experience.  While high streets which are small and badly located should be transformed into housing or offices. 

Alex Morton, author of the report, said: ‘It is understandable politicians sometimes feel the pull of nostalgia but a focus on trying to revive the high street by limiting out-of-town outlets isn’t the answer. The results of this are boarded up high streets and higher prices.

‘Some high streets are run by good local councils and are doing well. Others are not. High streets are struggling either due to poor council management, or simply because the high street is unable to meet the needs of 21st century shoppers. Poor performing councils should lose their powers over the high street. For those high streets unable to compete with other retail outlets, boarded up shops should be converted into housing and office space.’

The report from the Policy Exchange comes just days after another think-tank, Centre for Cities, also called for town centre first policies to be scrapped.

In July this year, British Land won the go-ahead for expansion at Sheffield’s out-of-town shopping centre Meadowhall, despite efforts by Sheffield City Council to block the development in favour of city centre growth.

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