Just in time for Christmas, two new reports on the future of the High Street were published by the UK's Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The High Street Report was produced by the Minister for the High Street’s Expert Panel led by Sir John Timpson.

High Street 2030: Achieving Change is a report by the Institute of Place Management that summarises the evidence sessions held to inform the Expert Panel and MHCLG (details of this report are in a separate news story).

The High Street Report notes the challenges many high streets are facing but, in his forward, Sir John Timpson suggests that government should learn from places that have bucked the trend by helping local teams with a viable vision to put their own plan into action so that real change can happen. The interim recommendations from the Expert Panel were accepted by the government and led directly to the £675 Future High Street Fund. The report looks in more detail at how local places can be empowered – what it terms “Upside Down Government” - to make town centres successful.

The High Street Report says that its recommendations drew on evidence sessions that looked at what has been done and what is planned in Holmfirth, Shrewsbury, Bristol, and Altrincham. The sessions were run by the Institute working with local IPM and BID Foundation members. The views of young people involved in the high street were gathered through interviews at the Bolton Teenage Market, again by the Institute working with the Teenage Market and a further session in Aldershot, which the report notes faces a challenging retail environment. A survey was also undertaken as part of the evidence gathering and existing reports, including the Grimsey Review, and evidence to the Select Committee Inquiry on the High Street were also reviewed.

The report recommends the creation of a High Street Task Force as a single voice for town centres and providing access to expert help, data, information and best practice as well as skill building and networking and work to review planning in respect of the high street. In calling for the Task Force, the Panel says:

"We were impressed by the work already done by Scotland’s Town Partnership, The Institute of Place Management and the latest report produced by Bill Grimsey. These are examples that the Department should examine before setting up the Task Force."

The government had already accepted the recommendation and announced it would proceed in the Budget. A pre-tender call was made early in December and it is expected that the Task Force will be launched in April.

The second recommendation relates to the operation of the Future High Street Fund. It stresses the importance of co-funding and that the money be allocated for restructuring but this can include improving space management and transport links. The report sees a critical role for the Task Force in supporting and evaluating funding proposals and sharing experience. The report sees three key criteria for successful proposals. They should have an achievable vision, community involvement and inspirational leadership. The government is taking forward the Future High Street Fund, having announced £675 million in the Budget and the prospectus for the first round of bidding was released on Boxing Day.

In addition to these longer term initiatives, the Expert Panel report calls for action on housekeeping, empty shops and parking in town centres.