Today saw the launch of the prospectus for the £675 million Future High Streets Fund announced in the UK Budget in the Autumn.

The Fund has been established to "renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability." It will support places by co-funding transformative, structural changes to overcome challenges in their area. This investment will support wider economic growth within local areas, so delivering further investment and growth across England.

The prospectus recognises that rapid change is happening on the high street and this requires effective strategic thinking and masterplanning driven by strong local leadership. It identifies that the high street of the future will be about far more than just retail, and citing research by the Institute, notes that they can be the focus for the highest levels of social interaction and important drivers of growth in local economies.

The Fund is to be allocated over two rounds. The first round seeks Expressions of Interest from local authorities by 22 March 2019. This is designed as a light touch approach to assess applications on the need for funding, the nature of the challenge and the vision for the town centre. It is not looking for specific schemes at this point. Bids will only be considered for town centres facing significant challenges. The prospectus has clear criteria that define town centres and proposals must relate exclusively to them rather than neighbourhood centres, central business districts, or entire city regions.

Each proposal must be submitted by a local authority but it is expected that Expressions of Interest will show "proof of engagement with, and support from, a number of stakeholders including the following (where applicable):

  • Mayoral and non-Mayoral Combined Authorities
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships
  • Other tiers of local government in the area
  • Business Improvement Districts
  • Private sector
  • Community groups"

The Institute very much welcomes this requirement, as all our research suggests that place leadership needs to be shared across different sectors and engage all key interests.

The prospectus says local authorities should put forward a single transformative proposal covering one high street or town centre. However, this may be a new high street strategy that is applied across several town centres.

The response to the Expressions of Interest will be a short-listing that is expected to be announed in the Summer. Those short-listed enter into Phase 2 of the application process which will require significantly more evidence and detail to be supplied.

Expressions of Interest must be made using the application form on the MHCLG website. The Fund applies to England only, though a separate £50 million for town centres in Scotland was announced in the recent Scottish Budget. Details are expected shortly.