This was the follow up blog I wrote almost a year ago…
I have been thinking about where next for our beleagured High Streets, you know the town centres that are no longer the centre of much for many people nowadays. There is no pushing back the tide of the supermarkets, the internet and the fact that people are spread out more geographically, there are more of them and everyone seemingly needs to use cars. But I reckon there are some things that could be done at the policy level of local and national Government.
I am yet to read Mary Portas’s report commissioned by BIS, but I intend to do so. Meantime here is my ten point plan for a revival:-
- Increase business rates on all out of town shopping centres. Levy charges on cube footage including car parks.
- Reduce all business rates on inner city/town commercial buildings. For all start ups give a rate free period measured in years. .
- Increase public transport into town and city centres – start with buses, minbuses and then trams when budgets allow. Make them all free to use.
- Deregulate parking, make it all free. Build more car parks.
- Repair all broken windows on empty properties and municipal buildings. This should be the local council’s job and it will create jobs. Spend money on the fabric of existing buildings rather than creating new ones whilst money is tight.
- Cut red tape and allow unused shops to be turned back into housing.
- Encourage all social enterprise and services to locate in the centre by waiving all rates. Definitions are needed, but work something out that says if you are putting back, giving or supplying services for old or young, you don’t pay extra tax.
- Make all businesses responsible for their own waste collection. Let them self manage and change car parking wardens for recycling officers.
- Aquire land/buildings from the private sector and re-let at aggressive rates to social enterprise businesses.
10.Levy council funds as a direct proportion of profits. If a store cannoty prove its turnover and is therefore part of a chain, it should pay rates at standard tariff if it is a single site business then it only pays rates if it makes a profit. The more successful the business, the more that business pays. Allow businesses to take risk and take time to build.
Above all, encourage enterprise and the public to understand what is best served on the High Street. Anything that is sold easily via the internet is not going to work. Equally commodoties that are sold by supermarkets don’t work either. Keep it social and keep it niche. Ensure that older people and young people have a reason to travel and make it free to travel to and from the city/town centre. Strike proper partnerships between small to medium size enterprises and local authorities, geared around mutual success and long term shared goals. Encourage small traders, young and old. Create a feeling of civic pride and renewal.
I am sure it could happen, if everyone did their bit. But we need leadership from the national Government and councils and we need that to be decisive and to happen now. We don’t want wishy woshy ideas, we need firm policies that encourage small organisations to grow. Get younger people, with fresh ideas and energy into elected councils and let’s make the centres exciting morning, noon and night.
Napoleon called the English ‘ a nation of shopkeepers’, we should remember that and celebrate our heritage through innovative and creative use of our High Streets.