High Street Task Force study calls on councils to prioritise place leadership

According to a 2022 study conducted by the University of Reading, 69% of civic societies actively participate in projects aimed at improving their local town centres. This demonstrates the critical role that civic societies play in shaping the future of High Streets and Town Centres. 

Nonetheless, many communities continue to feel excluded from their town's decisions and mention to Civic Voice that the quality of local leadership in being prepared to drive forward a place agenda is a major issue. 

We know that many groups are involved in High Street Task Force activities, whether they are Aldershot, Cockermouth, Kendal, or Wakefield Civic Society, so a new report that sheds light on the relevance of Place Leadership will be of interest.

The report by the High Streets Task Force examines the role of local authority leaders in locations with successful track records of high street regeneration. Lead author and Task Force Director, Matthew Colledge FIPM, interviewed senior figures including former Chief Executive of Stockton Council, Neil Schneider, Cllr Mike Jones of Cheshire West and Chester Council, and, Michelle Sacks, Deputy Chief Executive of South and East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership.

The importance of local leaders playing a strategic role in driving place-making initiatives that promote social and economic regeneration is emphasised in the report. Leadership is emphasized, which requires collaboration, influence, visioning, convening, and network building. These are all roles that Civic Societies play in their daily activities, whether it is Beeston Civic Society organising a vision for Beeston, Cheltenham Civic Society influencing activity through their manifesto, or Wakefield Civic Society's President who is currently the acting-chair of the Wakefield High Street Task Force. Civic Societies excel at establishing relationships with community members and local leaders in order to create networks that produce positive outcomes in a variety of areas of influence.

Our message is that civic societies should work with local leaders to ensure that place-making initiatives align with the community's needs and values as advocates for protecting, promoting, and enhancing the local built environment, but we go further, saying that we need support that goes directly to communities. As the report states, we should not believe that local councils are the only leaders in our towns. We require place-partnerships comprised of local partners.

Overall, the findings of the report should assist Civic Societies in continuing to advocate for the importance of collaborative working with to shape High Streets and Town Centres that reflect the values and needs of the local community.

Download 'Place Leadership in English Local Authorities'

The High Streets Task Force is working with over 150 local authorities across England, providing support and advice to help transform local high streets. It will be reporting impact and case studies from this work throughout 2023 and 2024, when the programme will end.