Corporate News

Retail red alert; industry urges government rescue bid

Select committee to hear retailer and landlords’ evidence; high streets back on top of government agenda

A House of Commons select committee will next week hear from key figures in the retail and property industries as the government draws up a strategy on how to save the high street.

At a critical juncture for the retail sector, the department for Business, Innovation and Skills select committee will on Tuesday begin hearing evidence from retailers, landlords and lobby groups as the battle to help the ailing retail sector returns to the top of the government agenda.

The British Retail Consortium, BCSC and the Association of Convenience Retailers will present radical proposals to revive the sector, alongside submissions from the biggest retailers and landlords, including Intu Properties, Morrisons and Boots. The committee is expected to report in July.


Chippenham High Street

Among the proposals are a rebalancing of in- and out-of-town business rates and use of infrastructure funds to remodel town centres.

The renewed focus on town centres comes two years after Mary Portas undertook her high street review. Mark Williams, chair of the Distressed Retail Property Taskforce which was set up in response to the Portas review, told Property Week he will urge the government to address fragmented ownership in towns, and encourage councils to draw up large-scale leisure, residential or civic schemes — using compulsory purchase — to attract developers.

The taskforce will call for the government’s infrastructure fund to be widened to cover property, so it can be spent on remodelling town centres, and an automatic call-in for all out-of-town schemes, so government can oblige councils to address the impact of the new schemes before granting consent.

Following the government’s delay in the revaluation of business rates, Williams will push for an immediate revaluation based on the current legislation’s provision for a rethink if there has been “a material change in circumstances”, which he will argue has been caused by the rise of internet retail, leading to voids.

Andrew Hinds, director of jeweller F Hinds, has also called for business rates reform. His submission said: “Since 2007, every shop we have opened has been in a shopping centre, and every shop we have closed has been on a high street.This has not been a strategy or even a desire but the inevitable effect of increasing costs without increasing revenues in these locations and a worsening surrounding environment.”

He suggests that to help town centres compete their rates should be reduced while those for edge- and out-of-town schemes should remain the same or increase. He also called for rates on empty properties to be axed and for local councils to be given direct financial incentives to get the properties let.

The BCSC’s Ed Cooke called for a 2% cap on business rates and a review on how the tax is affecting town centres, as well as greater use of TIFs and for the money to go directly to developers.

The Co-operative Group warned it is “disappointed that the government has failed to implement more of the [Portas] review’s recommendations” including proposals for super-BIDs, creating a level playing field for out-of-town parking and exceptional sign off for new out-of-town developments.

The retailer suggested abolishing parking charges in town centres, or imposing charges on out-of-town centres, with this money being used to invest in town centres, paying for more park and ride services to improve access.

Intu Properties called for landlords to become full members of business improvement districts, the relaxation of planning restrictions on leisure uses and the extension of Sunday trading hours.

The British Property Federation added to pressure for use class changes, calling for the conversion of retail space to residential uses to be made easier and urged an empty rates rethink.

The government will have two months to respond to the July report.

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