Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee chair Clive Betts MP launched the group’s ‘High Streets and Town Centres in 2030’ report last week, warning that “local authorities must get to grips with the fact their town centres need to change”.
RN analyses what six of the proposals could mean for the future of independent retailers.
High street opening hours
A push for more retailers to open later would drive customers back to parades and high streets, and away from out-of-town locations, according to the report.
Retailers told RN that their footfall grows when the shops around them remain open.
Dhan Amin, of One Stop Stoke Aldermoor in Coventry, explained: “There are seven other stores on the parade my shop is based on and we all work together,” said Amin.
“We supply the nearby café with stock and they’ll often attract customers from outside the area.”
Flexible business classes
Experts in the report argued for councils to relax licensing ‘use classes’ in order to give stores more flexibility to add different elements.
Southend council planning director Peter Geraghty told the committee: “The use class order is due an overhaul, because the nature of uses we find are different from what was originally intended.”
Paul Gardner of Budgens of Islington in London said: “Differentiating with services that wouldn’t traditionally be associated with convenience are vital to offsetting decline in traditional categories.”
VAT, sales taxes and business rates
The report called for the government to consider radical measures to build a fair tax system for retailers. This included replacing business rates with a rise in VAT or a new sales tax, as well as using an online sales tax or a new methodology for online warehouse sites to reduce the burden on other rates payers, as endorsed by the ACS.
However, Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, told RN the role rates play in local budgeting means “business rates is a tax that is here to stay”.
Both reports suggest the public should be given a greater say in town centres, retail planning and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
This includes calls for legislative change to change BIDs to “community improvement districts”.
The reports say more community interest and representation in retail areas will lead to greater footfall and retail occupancy.
The approach is already working in Walsall, where Amrit Singh and his father Harjit use a ‘resort’ ethos in their H & Jodie’s Nisa Local store to keep local people shopping in High Heath. “It’s a holiday resort mentality, where you look at fulfilling people’s needs, both in terms of services and entertainment through community events,” he said.
David Mitchell, of At Last Tea Room and newsagents in Peterborough, added: “We had been asking the council to help us with a few things for a long time, but the council didn’t even respond. But when people said they needed a social space and we told the council we could provide it by adding a tea room to our shop, they were a lot more helpful. You’d be surprised how quickly a council can change its tune.”
Both reports tell local authorities to work with businesses to consider implementing free short- stay parking to encourage shoppers back to bricks and mortar. However, Natalie Lightfoot, owner of Londis Solo Convenience in Glasgow, doubted how willing councils are to engage with retailers.
The retailer took part in a consultation last year to install metres outside her shop but the local authority refused to introduce an initial free period. “A meeting was held by the authorities just to tick a box. This can’t happen going forward,” she said.
The reports suggested there are too many shop units and called for legal changes allowing some to be converted to office or residential uses. Colliers International’s associate director of retail strategy, Matthew Thompson, told RN: “This can only be positive because it will indirectly impact the performance of convenience store retailers.”
However, chair of York’s retail forum Phil Pinder warned that being able to change uses would put landlords of stores “back in control again” and increase rents. He called for small convenience stores on long leases to be given a “right to buy”.
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