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Calls to replace empty high street shops with ‘health hubs’

Empty town centre high streets should be used to establish ‘health hubs’ containing GP surgeries, 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 life should prompt a rethink about better ways to deliver public services including healthcare in town centres.

‘Without significant change, we face the prospect of urban degeneration across the country, with a high proportion of vacant commercial real estate and reduced footfall in town and city centres,’ the report states.

It urges policymakers to use the power of the public sector to establish new service ‘hubs’ on high streets.

The SMF cited examples where local authorities and healthcare bodies are already developing such hubs, which it suggested could be a model for other areas in future.

It cites the example of the City of Wolverhampton Council, the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and Wolverhampton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which have developed a hub which brings together over 60 health and social care professionals under one roof, at Wolverhampton Science Park.

‘The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic looks set to change our high streets permanently,’ said SMF research director, Scott Corfe.

‘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.’

The SMF report was supported by DAC Beachcroft.

‘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,’ said DAC Beachcroft’s head of planning, Christopher Stanwell.

‘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.’

Photo Credit – Jamie Hailstone

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