Town centre regeneration

Frequently asked questions

Making Swindon town centre a place people choose to visit, live and work

Swindon’s high street is adapting to changing times and the needs of the local community.

Securing its position as a place people choose to live, work and visit requires the combined efforts and investment of the private, public and voluntary sectors – including landowners, developers, the council and government.

Below we answer some commonly asked resident questions about the town centre and explain our role in working alongside national and local partners.

While occupancy rates for retail units remain generally strong across the town centre, primary streets such as Regent Street and Canal Walk do have higher numbers of empty shops due to the challenges being faced by national retailers as a result of changing shopping habits.

However, streets such as Faringdon Road and Havelock Street are flourishing as the demand from niche and independent retailers remains strong. 

Across the country, the future of town centres and high streets has long been a matter of concern. This briefing paper on town centre regeneration produced by the House of Commons Library (May 2021) sets out the common issues and challenges facing town centres. It mentions that:

Trends in retail – and in particular changes in people’s shopping habits, with a shift towards out of town shopping and more recently to online shopping – have prompted concerns about the viability of town centres.

The paper summarises what support and funding the Government has made available for town centres and high streets, which will benefit towns like Swindon.

This all means the town centre must diversify away from its traditional reliance on shops. We’re likely to see more buildings converted into new homes and venues where people can socialise and enjoy experiences. The council’s planning policies can facilitate this transition, but progress ultimately relies on businesses bringing forward viable plans.

Achieving the changes we all want to see will require contributions from across the private sector (landowners, developers, investors), public sector (national and local government) and the voluntary sector.

Most of the land and buildings in the town centre (including almost 1,000,000 sq ft of retail space) are owned by many different organisations, including:

  • FI Real Estate Management - owners of the Brunel Shopping Centre (520,000 sq ft retail space) and several large office blocks in the town centre
  • Meadow Partners - owners of The Parade shopping precinct (330,000 sq ft retail space) and nearby Falcon House
  • UK Commercial Property Trust (UKCPT) - owners of Regent Circus (98,800 sq ft retail/leisure space)

This means the council has no direct control over what happens in the town centre. However, using the land and buildings we do own, as well as our legal powers, access to targeted funding, local knowledge and influence, we can help unlock changes.

This will include over £100M of council-led investment over the next four years in public realm improvements and regeneration projects within the town centre. These will help to increase land values and make Swindon more attractive to commercial investors to provide new services, attractions, homes and workplaces.

This briefing paper on town centre regeneration produced by the House of Commons Library (May 2021) provides an overview of the Government funding and support designed to support the transformation of town centres and high streets.

This includes the Future High Streets Fund launched in December 2018, which awarded Swindon Borough Council £25M in December 2020 to develop a new public transport hub on Fleming Way, along with improved cycle and pedestrian links.

Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP), which is funded by central Government, has contributed £3M to progress the design of the scheme together with the necessary site investigations and utility diversions. The council’s Cabinet also approved a contribution of £5M in capital funding to the project.

Other Government pots of money have been available for councils to bid for. 

In March 2021, Swindon received £19.6m from the Government’s Towns Fund for town centre regeneration projects. It is also using £4m secured through the Government’s Getting Building Fund to continue the regeneration of Brunel’s former Carriage Works. The Government previously commissioned the 2018 High Street Report reviewing high streets and town centres. This led to the creation of the High Streets Task Force to provide expertise and support to local areas on regeneration programmes.

Local business rates are set by central government, which uses the revenue raised to fund public services. In October 2021, the Government published its final report following a review of business rates.

This includes plans to introduce a new temporary 50% business rates relief for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties for 2022-23.

Meanwhile, most of the rents in the town centre are controlled by private landlords.

inSwindon BID Company Ltd is an independent, not for profit Business Improvement District (BID).

It was formed in 2007 to improve a defined commercial area in Swindon Town Centre. It is led by businesses in the BID area and funded through a levy charged on BID business rate payers, in addition to their business rates bill.

inSwindon BID provides additional services and enhancements to the BID area, representing and responding to the interests and needs of businesses, and developing projects such as public events for the good of the area and community.

For more information, visit the inSwindon BID website.

Over £100M of council-led investment will take place in the town centre over the next four years, following successful funding bids to central government.

This includes the £33M redevelopment of Fleming Way to create a new bus interchange and much-improved pedestrian and cycle routes to make the centre of Swindon easier for people to access and move around.

We also secured £19.6M to progress five town centre regeneration schemes, including work that will make land ready for new homes and offices on the next phase of the Kimmerfields regeneration site, next to Zurich’s new flagship building.

Through the Heritage Action Zone we are also delivering improvements to key heritage buildings and spaces linked to our historic railway village.

Read more about the Swindon town centre projects

There are a number of other major projects underway in the town centre and the surrounding area, which will act as a catalyst for further investment in the centre of Swindon. These include:

  • Swindon Institute of Technology - a £21m government-funded employer-led institution, which will offer high-level technical education in key STEM areas. It will build on the educational opportunities already available in the town centre. Phase one opened at the North Star site this autumn
  • Zurich ‘Unity Place’ building – £38m is being invested in this state-of-the-art building on the Kimmerfields development site, which is the first new office to be built on Swindon town centre for 20 years. The new offices will safeguard the future of one of Swindon’s major employers and will ensure hundreds of employees continue to work in the centre of the town, providing a significant boost to the local economy. The new development will also complement the forthcoming transformation of Fleming Way creating an environment which will be more attractive to potential investors.
  • A £17m development of the former Aspen House site is taking place in Regent Street, which will provide a 194-bedroom Premier Inn hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor.

We are also working with landowners and businesses to coordinate regeneration in areas where it does not own land. This includes working with businesses and property owners in the Fleet Street area to secure new investment into the area.

The number of empty shops in areas such as Commercial Road and Faringdon Road is low due to continued strong demand from independent and niche retailers for smaller units. However, there are more empty shop units in primary retail areas due to a fall in demand from larger, national chains.

Like all town centres, Swindon has suffered as a consequence of the struggles of national retail chains as our shopping habits change and more people shop online. The pandemic accelerated this trend. Rising rents and business rates, which are not set by the council, have also contributed to chain store closures leaving behind empty units.

It means the town centre must diversify away from its traditional reliance on shops. This will involve, for example, converting buildings into smaller retail units, new homes, work places and spaces for experiences such as socialising and leisure activities.

The council’s planning policies can support the transition, but progress ultimately relies on businesses bringing forward plans.

Businesses make hard-headed investment decisions on the location of their shops based on where the evidence demonstrates there is a profitable demand for their products and services. The recession and economic challenges brought about by the pandemic have all knocked business confidence in making new investments.

Even before the pandemic, the impact of online shopping, business rates and rents, was already causing businesses to close rather than open new shops.

However, not all high street retailers are struggling. For example, independent and boutique retailers, that are able to offer unique products or a more personalised service, have flourished in recent years and are expected to continue to prosper.

The number of complementary, ‘experiential’ and leisure activities, such as coffee shops, hairdressers and nail bars have also increased in recent years.

The council, working alongside inSwindon, has been delivering a programme of interventions to enable this new retail and leisure offer to continue to grow.

Our wider town centre regeneration programme, which will transform the look and feel of the town centre, will further support the growth of this more distinctive retail and leisure offer.

Any income raised through parking charges and fines is spent on running parking services, including council-run car parks, blue badges, restrictions, permits and parking enforcement. Any extra is only spent on essential transport projects including filling potholes, supporting concessionary bus fares to help reduce congestion and other local transport projects that benefit the town.

However, this income remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels, as people who were previously working from offices, now work more from home, and people need to regain their confidence to return to public spaces.

In 2019 the Council was able to introduce free parking every Sunday in the town centre and this remains in place.

We all want to see improvements as quickly as possible, but need to be realistic. Setting up the town centre to thrive will take time and the council can’t do it alone.

Economic conditions, investor confidence and government policy will all play a significant part too in shaping the pace of change.

It’s a big, complex task and in an uncertain world, not everything will go as we might like. We have been successful in securing significant grant funding in the last 12 months to help deliver our regeneration plans. However, the allocation of this funding needs to be planned, projects need to be scoped out, and contractors procured. This process takes time.

Over £100M of council-led investment over the next four years in public realm improvements and regeneration projects within the town centre can only help create a snowball effect. Increasing land values and attracting new private sector investment in new services, facilities, homes and workspaces to support local jobs.

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