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Grimsey review offers alternative vision for the high street

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A TAX raid on retail and leisure chains with a turnover of more than £10m, and a ‘root and branch’ reform of business rates are at the heart of Bill Grimsey’s high street review.

The report has been compiled by a group of industry experts and follows a bitter war of words between Grimsey and Mary Portas over how best to save the retail industry as a host of big name brands like HMV, Blockbuster and Woolworths have gone to the wall.

Here Grimsey has set out an ‘alternative future’ for the high street, where retail plays a bit-part in town centres alongside leisure and housing.

Although the review warns that more than 20,000 small retail businesses are in danger of going under without urgent change, there are bright examples of reform such as at Wyre Forest District Council in Worcestershire.

As well as calling for Government to embrace the “political will” to make the changes such as a tax on big business, Grimsey’s review also sets out a futuristic vision of how high streets might work.

When shoppers enter the town centre, CCTV cameras will identify them from face-recognition technology so that shops and services can prepare for their visit in advance.

Customers would also use smartphones and tablet devices to scan items and use holographic displays as a matter of course.

Some bright stats also emerged for smaller shops with research suggesting the number of independent retailers on UK high streets grew by 2% overall between 2011 and 2013, while multiple retailers were in decline at -5.2% over the same period.

The review follows the intervention of planning minister Nick Boles last month, who said it must be made easier for local authorities to turn empty shops into houses.

Speaking to the Communities and Local Government Committee, Portas defended her own review, citing Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, which has seen shop vacancy rates drop by 50%.

“I must have done something to Mr Grimsey in a former life,” she added.

What Bill Grimsey’s review would mean for you

High street minister

  • This post would replace the part time position that forms part ofthe housing minister’s duties
  • Every local authority to establish a Town Centre Commission to set a 20-year business plan

Parking

  • Motorists would be given extra opportunities to visit shops with a 2hr free car-parking systems in town centres and high streets
  • Local authorities to freeze all car-parking charges for a minimum of one year

Business rates

  • An overhaul of the rates system so that business rates are flexible (i.e. can go down as well as up) to reflect economic conditions
  • Immediately reintroduce the 2015 rates revaluation and freeze business rates in 2014
  • Any business occupying a town centre property that has been vacant for 12 months to receive 50% rate relief for two years
  • More councils to copy Wyre Forest District Council, which spent £12,000 of its £100,000 innovation grant on business rate discounts, bringing 10 empty shops back into business – proof of the effectiveness of rates relief

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