High Noon for the High Street: Responding to the cycle of decline in Britain’s town centres

December 21, 2009   By James Hulme
  • 15% of high street shops likely to be empty by Christmas
  • Councils urged to offer business rate incentives for new companies
  • Call for more independent shops to stop ‘Ghost Town Britain’

As the number of high street stores closing increases, a think tank is today (Mon) calling for councils to step in and offer local businesses tax incentives if they invest in their area.

Independent think tank the New Local Government Network (NLGN) is calling on the Government to allow councils to offer lower business rates to incentivise new businesses offset the cost by instigating new powers to increase rates on businesses that could be detrimental to the local area such as betting shops, fast-food takeaways and cheque-cashing stores. It also suggests that councils should have the power to take over existing private shops if there are no plans to fill then and offer them as premises to local businesses.

The report, High-Noon for the High Street also says that local small businesses should be subsidised to take over empty shops in an attempt to reverse ‘Ghost Town Centres’. High Street stores have been hit hard by a combination of the recession and an increase in out of town and internet shopping. Figures estimate that 15% of shops are likely to be empty by the end of 2009 whilst 70% of former Woolworths stores remain empty.

NLGN says it wants councils to support local commerce by taking over empty shops and offering them to local entrepreneurs and small businesses without premises on a basis of free or low-level rent. It says that councils could even own a stake in their business – as in the TV show Dragon’s Den – in exchange for offering subsidised rents. The report also calls for a renaissance in local, independent high street shops, pointing towards evidence that shows that money spent in a chain store is less likely to stay in its locality than a local shop.

The report also argues for “a level playing field” on out of town shopping developments and suggests that the Government could introduce a levy on large-scale developments which could then be spent on enhancing the high-street or town centre. It also points out that many high streets are subject to parking charges whilst out of town shopping centres generally offer free parking, so suggests that councils introduce a small parking levy on out of town developments to pay for a reduction in town centre fees or increased investment in public transport.

The report is published on the last Monday before Christmas – traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It also comes as online retailers are predicted to have a record year – another blow to high street stores.

Co-author of the report, James Hulme argue that more must be done to save traditional high streets:

“Local councils need to take a pro-enterprise approach to saving the British High Street and responding to the cycle of decline in our town centre. Only the will we get the High Street off the low road.”

“Whilst High Street shops face numerous challenges within these difficult economic circumstances, there is also an opportunity to refresh and redesign how our town centres look and encourage local, independent businesses”

“Councils should be empowered with new rates-levying powers to encourage local small businesses and entrepreneurs, paid for by targeting businesses that often take away more from an area than they give back. This could allow town centres to again become vibrant places for local people to shop, meet and go out”

December 21, 2009
Authored by

James Hulme
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