Restructuring Societies: Insights from the Social Sciences

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It follows that new models of leadership and collaboration need to be sensitive to identifying the potential synergies of high street and town centre dynamics, and with an ability to tease out the particular distinctiveness and relative positioning in the wider socio-economic environment. In other words, the restructuring of governance needs to reflect the diversity of the place mix and identify the appropriate partners, knowledge, capacities and skills. For example, the External Advisory Group made the case for a more proactive planning approach based on an integrated policy framework that brings together national, regional and local planning agencies, and local civic and amenity groups.

In practical terms, then, sustaining vibrant local economies depends upon devising a model of complementary leadership involving local authorities and businesses. Similarly, if town centres aim to enhance their digital provision, this requires local businesses, community groups, local authorities and digital providers to cooperate. Likewise, if there is a vision of the town centre as a living — rather than solely a shopping — environment, then planners, social landlords, empty homes agencies and funders, for example, need to work together, alongside retailers.

The next section draws insights from the specific cases studied as part of the High Street UK project, drawing attention to process and plan aspects of planning and governance restructuring. Quotations are anonymised to protect privacy. As an applied project, High Street UK sought to bring together relevant insights from theory to help address practical challenges on the ground.

As such, care was taken not only to categorise areas where intervention was necessary but also, importantly, feasible. While three of the ten case study partner towns [Congleton, St George Bristol and Wrexham] focused in particular on restructuring, it is useful to note that participants involved in other approaches adopted under the project also highlighted aspects of planning and governance as key issues potentially inhibiting — or facilitating — effective action; therefore, we have also included reference to these in this paper.

Particular insights relating to the challenges confronting town centre and high street change were articulated by participants during project workshops, and these are drawn upon here to illustrate the nature of some of the principal dilemmas identified. The findings are grouped under four broad themes models of partnership working, nature of partnership working, roles and responsibility and planning and governance. Different governance planning and governance models exist.

In Altrincham, the pursuit of a BID model of governance had unintended consequences which involved a default reliance on the local retailers. On the one hand, this approach effectively divested collective responsibility across a sector. On the other, such a single sector approach weakened the breadth and diversity of the potential change agents. Eventually, a more inclusive partnership between the retailers and the civic sector evolved which went on to formulate a town centre neighbourhood business plan, using evidence from the High Street UK study Altrincham Business Neighbourhood Forum, The referendum for this plan will be held in October and, if successful, the plan will be used to determine legally the future development of the town centre.

Sometimes, new structures such as the Altrincham Business Neighbourhood Forum will be required to channel and support such energy. In practice, governance forms may be a consequence of scale and strategic management. Hence, within a major city context, for example, there will be a number of high streets competing for limited resources.

Degrees of engagement may also be relatively weak as a consequence. Moreover, and depending on the specific needs of the individual neighbourhoods within a city, it may prove difficult to generate a strategic approach to managing all the high streets which meet the particular needs of individual localities and communities.

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One of these neighbourhoods that participated in the project was Bristol St George, which is one of 46 other retail centres across areas in the city. The key perception during the workshops was that there was a strong community feeling and willingness from the local people to be part of making changes. One of the recommendations from the academic team was to look at the development of an effective local partnership to establish a shared vision for Church Road.

Partnerships such as St George Neighbourhood Partnership and Church Road Town Team were already establishing formal actions towards local business resilience and retail adaptation. These aimed not only to support local businesses but also towards building community via the encouragement of using local retail centres and businesses St George Neighbourhood Partnership Plan, a. The new network will be run entirely by local residents and has already been able to self-organise to continue to pursue local priorities in the area despite reductions in central government funding St George Neighbourhood Partnership Plan, It can be argued that local partnership working in St George has shown, and continues to show, great resilience and adaptation towards the challenges that can hamper effective local governance and planning of the area and its high street.

Notwithstanding the case for new forms of collaborative governance, it is clear that developing appropriate models of joint-working brings with it certain challenges. It is also apparent that different models of partnership working have different implications. There was a sense that particular barriers existed which served to undermine partnership working in the town, including a lack of leadership, poor role definition, ill-defined partnership remit and unclear responsibilities. This governance culture had, it was felt, undermined the performance of the town, restricted communication channels and weakened the perceived legitimacy of the partnership.

As a consequence, the potential input from wider stakeholders was effectively diluted, potentially weakening the available resource base. As models of high street and town centre governance evolve, there is clearly a need to consider how different roles and responsibilities are defined and inter-relate. Devising effective divisions of labour is not always easy; however, particularly when new forms of governance extend beyond formal — or statutory — functions. A lack of coordination across different roles and responsibilities, as well as a lack of common goals, have been associated with other regeneration or revitalisation projects in both the UK and the USA Mowery and Novak, One participant put it this way:.

In concluding this section, attention is paid to the work of Wrexham County Borough Council in North Wales where the 25 priorities for local action, identified in the UK High Street project, were used to support the development of a masterplan as part of the statutory planning process leading to the new local development plan Wrexham County Borough Council, , pp.

Critically, this document was developed using wide stakeholder engagement. However, the previous model of retail continually driving town centre growth has broken, changes in modern retail, the way people shop and wider economic changes mean that town centre regeneration needs a different model, future growth will come from a greater diversity of town centre uses. Wrexham County Borough Council, , p. The masterplan also asserted the important role partnership working had made in developing the vision.

Notably, then, Wrexham County Borough Council specified a range of partners necessary to progressing the vision, comprising national government, local planners, other council actors and the private sector. The vision developed by this network of diverse actors identifies alternative future scenarios around complementary themes based not only on shopping but also on visiting, living, working, attractiveness, distinctiveness and accessibility.

While these themes may be found in many town centre or high street visions, the checklist of 25 priorities was ranked Wrexham County Borough Council, , Appendix 10 , offering not only a useful illustration of the thinking process involved in developing a future strategy but also validating the approach and identifying the related policy, practical, governance, implementation and delivery issues involved. Participants commented on the importance of the workshops in this process, and one of them highlighted that:.

This [the Plan] arose as a result of a workshop where the university attended, meeting in the council chambers. They found there are 25 priorities and how we would tackle those. We broke up into small groups and started actioning things, such as street clean-ups, street festivals, and we influenced parking charges. We are recognising that the council have officers and members dealing with issues in the town centre, and we have many volunteers.

There is a substantial evidence base in the research, policy and practice literature that high streets and town centres are undergoing processes of transformation. Retail ing and high street change have been constant issues, of which governments local and central have been aware but have been seemingly unable to deal with in a timely manner Kalandides et al. In parallel, state-market-civil relations are evolving. Models of governance then need to adapt Pancholi et al. Restructuring then involves new relations beyond formal government, resulting in evolving new forms of collaborative governance that potentially extend joint-working to involve multi-dimensional sectors and voluntary forms of action.

Faced with such fast-moving and transformative change, councils cannot rely on their statutory planning processes to keep pace — so by being willing to work in a more consultative and collaborative way they can be influenced by a richer and more contemporary source of information and insight brought by a wider set of stakeholders including, in the case of this High Street UK project, leading academics from five UK universities. In this paper, we argue that despite an abundance of academic knowledge on governance and partnerships, problems in practice are very common.

Therefore, it is important to bring knowledge to bear to these problems — in the way we have attempted to do. The impact this knowledge transfer process has had, as evidenced across this special issue, suggests that our approach has been successful. The most important conclusion we draw from the focus taken in this paper upon restructuring is that many towns have inadequate structures to manage change or encourage any action.

By having a thematic focus one of the 4 Rs and by acquiring the relevant knowledge, towns felt they could tackle an important issue — something that was holding them back. In terms of restructuring, four broad conclusions from this engaged scholarship project may then be discerned.

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First, addressing high street change of necessity involves selecting an appropriate model of partnership — or joint-working arrangement. Different models exist and these invoke a range of relational aspects which may involve different ways of working, engagement with diverse players with different cultures and mind-sets and a need to determine cross-scalar, strategic-local relations. Second, the nature and mode of working of the selected partnership will vary according to the model and partners involved.

Attention must be paid to the practical, structural, operational and relational dimensions of governance if partnership-working is to be nurtured and approaches to joint action for the benefit of the high street are to be secured. Fourth, the role of statutory land use planning in creating a resilient future for the high street remains a legitimate and democratic space for providing a leadership role, collating and prioritising the evidence base, and articulating options and joint strategies for change.

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Adopting participative methodologies such as engaged scholarship for the collation and prioritisation of the evidence base can serve to justify the work of new governance networks. Moreover, facilitating public debate around an alternative town centre vision can help build softer prerequisites such as trust and a sense of inclusion through soliciting local ideas and opinions, and enhance the resource base by identifying new change agents.

Finally, given the nature of the project, we end this paper with some practical recommendation for our town centre partners — as well as anyone else who is involved in regenerating the high street: Review partnership structures regularly — are they fit for purpose?

Even functional partnerships can turn dysfunctional over time.

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Places are complex — no one structure is likely to manage all activity or make all decisions, so it makes sense to map out the partnership landscape. How do different partnerships, structures and organisations link to each other?


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How much duplication is there in terms of place management or regeneration activity? Where are the gaps?

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Often the ideology or working culture of the partnership will be influenced by who leads it private, public or voluntary sector — so a partnership working culture should be encouraged that suits everyone, rather than just adopting the procedures and processes of one partner. Allmendinger , P. Bafarasat , A. Doak , J. Fernandes , J. Findlay , A. Folke , C. Hambleton , R. Hannigan , J. Hardin , G. Hart , C.


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