A report by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), 21st Century High Streets, assesses the problems facing UK town centres but it also highlights how we can build a brighter future for our high streets. The report responds to long-term concerns over the health of the high street and the fact that this has been exacerbated by the current downturn.
One of the biggest problems is the increasing number of vacant units, now averaging 12%. This deters both shoppers and retailers from coming into an area and makes life tougher for existing businesses. Not enough is being done to tackle this problem. The government at a local and central level needs to understand how vital the high street is.
The BRC is talking to local government and presenting case studies to show that good communication between partners brings good results.
Retailers, local authorities, heritage bodies, development agencies and central government all need to work in partnership.
One of the things local authorities can do is to improve high street access with transport policies aimed at making shop deliveries easier. And expensive car parking should be re-examined so as not to prevent shoppers from accessing town centres. Some car-parking schemes seem to be about revenue generation but some great initiatives offer parking for free after a certain time
The government must also understand that increased business rates and taxes on empty property are really hurting retailers.
The key is to act early. The sooner you intervene in the decline of a high street or town centre, the easier and cheaper it is to fix.
- Stephen Robertson is director general of the British Retail Consortium