Corporate News

BCSC: Change must be driven locally, says high streets minister

Government support to boost the UK's high streets must happen at a local level, high streets minister Penny Mordaunt told delegates at BCSC.

In her first public address as under secretary of state for communities and local government, Mordaunt highlighted successes achieved through funding to boost high streets and the need for local authorities to be encouraged to do more.

"Government's priority is to keep high streets at the heart of communities; they need to be more than just places to shop," she said.

"The most successful high streets are those adapting to changing consumer needs and the convenience culture.

"But we must be clear that there is no one size fits all solution. Each town is different. The plans and ideas for how to change high streets must come from local communities themselves."

Today the government published the locations of the 300,000 shops benefiting from a discount on business rates.

The minister emphasised the government's intention for funding to be allocated at a local level, and the importance of creating partnerships to make change sustainable.

"There are a tremendous amount of creative ideas to find local solutions, and we need to give local people confidence that if they try it, it will work," she added.

Mark Williams, co-owner and director of Hark Group and chair of the Government Distressed Property Taskforce, was on the panel discussion with the minister. He praised her for acknowledging the need to give local authorities more resource and skills to address their challenges.

"We need local authorities to re-masterplan their towns," he said. "Piecemeal change will not work; it has to be done locally with a new masterplan."

Williams also emphasised the need to bring residential back to town centres, brought about by infrastructure funding.

The third panellist was Tom Meager, Primark's head of property, who also highlighted the need for "a residential-led transformation" that would create the high street culture that is seen across Europe.

"The only high street empty at 6 o'clock is a UK high street," he said.

"The difficulty is disparate land ownership with no common objective. Without like-minded people there needs to be government assistance to bring stakeholders together."

The government will focus on making more power and resource available on a local level, said Mordaunt, and put "much more pressure as well as support" on local authorities to bring about change.