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Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram set up the commission – the first of its kind in the country – to investigate how to ensure a prosperous and sustainable long-term future for 17 town centres across the Liverpool City Region.
Its work has complemented the Mayor’s £6 million Town Centre Fund, which has helped to support local councils to develop exciting new ideas for regeneration.
The Commission’s report in February encouraged policy makers within the city region and beyond to re-imagine the role of town centres at the heart of communities.
These efforts to rethink how town centre spaces are used have been strengthened by the recent findings of the Metro Mayor’s Land Commission – England’s first to look at the use of land in community wealth-building – which urges planners to put people, not profit, at the heart of land use.
Those recommendations build on examples of successful work already being carried out by the City Region’s six local authorities.
“Neither our region nor the country will ever truly thrive unless our success is shared between cities and towns.
“Town centres are at the heart of our communities, providing a hub for people to meet, shop and socialise but they face a lot of existential problems, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Getting town centres and high streets in all parts of our region back on the up has been a priority for me since I was first elected. I set up the Town Centres Commission to come up with radical ideas for regenerating our high streets and setting them up to succeed for years to come.
“Now we’re getting to work understanding the recommendations and coming up with plans to see how and where we can implement them.”
“This Commission report gave us a lot to think about, both as a Combined Authority and as individual councils, as we look to future-proof our town centres for the post-pandemic world.
“The pandemic has reminded us just how much we need to get together with friends and family and now, as restrictions are eased, it is vital that we work together with our partners to ensure that our town centres have a bright future as community hubs, where people can meet, socialise, access services, and shop.”
The independent commission, in partnership with think tank IPPR North, outlined a vision for prosperous town centres that would “anchor” social, cultural, and economic value, “belong” to communities and “connect” people and places.
The Combined Authority will be asked at its meeting on Friday 23 July to approve responses to a series of detailed recommendations emerging from these themes, including the need to lobby for additional sources of funding, to gather more high quality data on the health of town centres, and encourage “pop-up” spaces for entrepreneurs.
A push to showcase good examples of pilot schemes highlighting collaboration, such as the Homebaked Community Land Trust which grew out of the iconic Anfield bakery, is expected to be supported.
Community engagement through initiatives such as the sParkit Liverpool initiative to reclaim and transform street parking spaces should also continue to be encouraged, the Combined Authority will be asked to agree.
Connectivity will continue to be a key theme in attracting people into public spaces, building on projects such as the St Helens town centre pilot for a Digital Town Centre.
St Helens used investment from the Town Centre Fund to drive up standards and create a friendlier and more welcoming night-time economy with quality registration schemes and a new forum.
In Knowsley, the Mayoral Fund supported a tailored business support programme, delivered by the group Save The High Street, in Huyton and Prescot, including the formation of the 64-strong Huyton Village Traders Association.
Wirral Council chose to use the funding for the town centres of New Ferry and Liscard – specifically around bringing underutilised assets back into community use – acquiring a property at auction for refurbishment to create ground floor commercial premises with residential space above.
Halton allocated their Mayoral funding to support Halton Lea, where a pilot will see an outpatients hub in Runcorn Shopping City, the first time an NHS hospital has provided services in a shopping centre.
In Sefton, funds were used to redevelop the publicly-owned Southport Market Hall, creating 11 new food and drink concessions and a flexible events space due to be opened in summer 2021.
Liverpool allocated the funds to support policing in County Road, which has the worst gun crime and domestic violence as well as being second most deprived ward in the city.
The County District Community Police Team pilot was so successful in terms of reducing crime and kickstarting regeneration, that Merseyside Police have almost doubled the number of officers there, from six to 11, and extended the initiative to Kirkby and Wirral.
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