Retailers call for action to prevent 'ghost towns'

James Thompson
Tuesday 14 April 2009 00:00
Comments

Retailers have urged the Government to provide them with more assistance to keep shops occupied, as Whitehall unveils a £3m initiative today to try to prevent high streets from becoming ghost towns during the recession.

Hazel Blears, the Community Secretary, will also unveil provisions to help local people or entrepreneurs temporarily convert empty shops into community projects or businesses, such as local art displays, to avoid high streets being boarded up. The provisions include special planning application waivers, standard interim-use leases, and temporarily leasing shops to councils that will allow the shops to get makeovers.

Experian, the information services company, believes that 15 per cent of high street shops, or 135,000 outlets, could be left empty by the end of the year, as retail administrations and financial woes force retailers to close stores.

But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the way to prevent high streets becoming ghost towns is to remove burdens and help retailers survive in them. Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: "Art displays are not the answer for empty shops. We agree that vacant premises blight town centres. But contriving schemes to fill them with other users is tackling the symptom while ignoring the cause." He singled out property costs as a key burden. Mr Robertson said: "Rather than offering empty shops for uses that are rates-free, wouldn't it be better to reduce the rates burden for struggling retailers?"

The BRC won a victory for its members on 31 March when the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, modified plans to introduce a 5 per cent increase in business rates. As a result, business rates increased by only 2 per cent from 1 April, with the remaining 3 per cent rise being spread over the next two years, under new legislation unveiled by the Government.

However, prior to Mr Darling's U-turn, the BRC had called for the Government to freeze new business rates and reverse its policy on empty property relief, which was scrapped in April last year.

At a seminar in Stockport today, Ms Blears will say: "Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets. Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the know-how to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the _community ... and stop the high street being boarded up."

Entrepreneurs have begun many successful businesses from empty premises, such as Romy Fraser who started Neal's Yard Remedies from a disused warehouse in 1981.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in