Town centres where shops and offices fall vacant should be used to establish new ‘health hubs’ combining GP surgeries, health and social care services and gyms, according to a new report.
The report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) says that the closure of high street stores and changes to office occupation should prompt a rethink about better ways to deliver public services including healthcare in town centres.
Planning policy should encourage the building of ‘lifetime’ housing in urban centres, where residents can live comfortably into old age, the SMF said. Councils could also be given powers to raise dedicated taxes to fund parks and green spaces.
The SMF, a cross-party Westminster think-tank, made the recommendations in a briefing paper on the future of the high street after the COVID-19 pandemic, which it says will significantly change life in urban centres.
To help maintain economic and social activity in urban centres, the SMF said policymakers should use the power of the public sector to establish new service ‘hubs’ on high streets. Health services should be a focus for such new sites.
Scott Corfe, SMF research director, said: ‘The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic looks set to change our high streets permanently.
‘To remain relevant, our town and city centres will need to be reimagined, and we think that health should be a key aspect of this repurposing of the high street.
‘Bringing more parks, GP surgeries, gyms and ‘health hubs’ to the high street could prevent the rise of ghost towns and improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the population.
Corfe also suggested that urban centres could become places where people live and retire, as empty commercial space is converted into specialist housing and care homes.
The SMF report was supported by international law firm DAC Beachcroft. The SMF retained editorial independence.
Christopher Stanwell, head of planning at DAC Beachcroft, said: ‘The suggestions put forward give a purposeful meaning to the variety of on-going discussions about the re-creation of our town and city centres.
‘Zero carbon is integral to the Government’s COVID recovery plans but the considerations in ‘Health on the High Street’ go beyond cleaner, to greener and wider inclusion.
‘Green, clean and more inclusive add to the filter for decision making and give strategic plans a greater sense of direction.
‘Pre-COVID many of our urban centres had become much more attractive for young adults. Post-COVID inclusion is likely to mean more housing for a greater range of ages; a return to centres that provide something for all.’
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