Another review into the problems besetting the British high street has been published, this time by the think tank Policy Exchange. The report “21st Century Retail Policy” adds to suggestions put forward in the Portas Review and more recently by Bill Grimsey.
Policy Exchange highlights the shift to ‘retail as leisure’ in that, internet shopping notwithstanding, people still want to go shopping in attractive and social retail destinations. Its diagnosis is that malaise comes from the needs of consumers being often ignored, and the remedies prescribed are:
Policy Exchange’s research suggests that consumers place the right mix of shops, car access and lavatories at the top of their concerns, with the availability of WiFi, pubs and cinemas being less important. The ownership structure and regulation of high streets make it more difficult to respond to those concerns, exacerbated in some areas by poor council management. It recommends much strengthened Business Improvement Districts involving both landlords and tenants, funded by a share of business rates rather than the current levy. The BID would have substantial control over policies in areas like non-strategic transport, planning, parking and lavatories, not just dealing with “crime and grime” as is often the case with the existing BIDs. This will allow those town centres that can compete with out-of-town and in-town shopping centres to do so.
Freeze Business rates
For two years as breathing space whilst more general retail reform is implemented, but the delayed revaluation should proceed.
Abolish the Town Centre First policy
It claims this has cut retail productivity, with the average household losing around £1,000 a year due to higher food and clothing costs alone. It should be replaced with an Access First policy to ensure that the poorest have access to social and retail hubs. Adequate cheap parking should be complemented by public transport serving out-of-town centres and poorer areas.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Retail should undertake a bi-annual review of regulation to keep retail regulation to a minimum.
Allow unviable high streets to fail
For those high streets simply too small and outdated to survive, this report proposes shrinking or converting whole high streets to much needed housing and office space, ending current dereliction.