James Moore: High streets need action on charges for recovery

Outlook Are the doom-mongers who warn of high streets turning into identikit wastelands consisting of only Starbucks, Costa, supermarket convenience stores, bookies and charity shops, overstating the case?

Aviva Investors thinks so. The fund manager produced a report suggesting that if the nascent economic recovery continues (big if, that) then trading conditions for retailers should steadily improve.

It goes on to opine that an increasing demand among consumers for value, convenience and, crucially, experience should benefit many town centres.

The internet is a threat but population growth and demographic shifts will boost demand for retailers and service providers that are conveniently located (we're getting older so we'll want shops close by rather than a half-hour drive away).

A change in consumer behaviour, with a growing demand for and appreciation of, independent outlets, may assist. Which is all fine and dandy. But for the rosy picture painted by this analysis to be realised government, central and local, still needs to play its part.

The biggest boost for town centres would be for the Treasury to stop presenting a tin ear to the complaints about sky-high business rates. To flourish high streets could also do with inexpensive and conveniently located parking, and cheap and reliable public transport.

Aviva's pretty picture shouldn't allow town hall or Whitehall to feel they're off the hook.

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