Town Centre troubles

Mary Portas has recently published her report into the decline of some town centres as shopping centres.I attach to the bottom of this blog her 28 policy recommendations, which are now the subject of a consultation. I would like to hear readers’ views before putting in my own thoughts to the BIS Department. They are consutling on the Report and will in due course decide what if anything to do.

Last week-end I visited a couple of shopping centres, one in a southern market town and another in a larger city when I was away from Wokingham. They illustrated the problems and the opportunities.

In each case the rise of the internet, the growth of out of town shopping, and the fierce competition from a wide range of shopping centres and outlets was having a visible impact. There was an oversupply of space, with various units unoccupied, or let to temporary tenants probably on much cheaper terms than the established traders. Discount retailing seemed more successful than the higher priced shops. Most stores were having to cut prices substantially to generate traffic. Many were reporting anecdotally poor turnover figures and squeezed margins. Some areas of the centres were run down, with too much empty or poor quality frontage. There have been well publicised problems since 2008 for Woolworths, Senza, HMV, Comet and a number of other well known names.

No-one is seriously suggesting that the rise of internet shopping can or should be halted. It is likely the retail industry has to plan for an increasing amount of trade to take place on line. Indeed, many leading High Street retailers compete with themselves by having strong internet shops alongside their traditional stores.

Some argue that the rise and rise of the out of town large food retailer, increasingly seeking more space to sell chemist shop, textile and other ranges as well as food, should be halted by declining planning permissions for such stores. Mary Portas argues for some tilt in the planning system towards High Street locations, but falls short of wanting rationing or banning more out of town space which remains popular with many customers. Some wish to go further, and demand anti trust action against leading retailers. So far they have not produced evidence to convince the Competition Authorities that there is a case to answer. There seems to be plenty of competition between the major food retailers, and they remain very popular when judged by use.

The out of town food and general purpose retailer, and the specialist shed retailer, have three great advantages over many in town shops. They usually offer plenty of free parking right outside the door, making it much more convenient to shop there. They often have keen prices owing to the weight of their bulk buying. They can offer a wide range of choice owing to the large floorplates they trade from.

The in town retailer also has a variety of advantages, which explain why in town centre retailing is still the biggest single element of the retail market. Taken together the in town shops provide a very wide range of styles and ranges for most tastes and income levels. There is not the same single house view dominating the buying that you see in the main superstores. The general environment may be better for shoppers wishing to enjoy a morning or afternoon for the experience, with a wide range of cafes, restaurants and other facilites in the town near the shops. Town centres can have their own beauty or magic that may be missing on the trading estate. Some in town stores benefit from the same strong buying that out of town stores can deploy to offer keen prices.

The problems for the town centres to me boil down to four:

1. Overtaxation and regulation. Rates are often very high, and rules and controls can be stifling. Change of use may be difficult, and both Councils and landlords can be restrictive in what they will let shop managers do. This is the area where national and local government should concentrate its efforts, to ease burdens and cut costs.
2. Too much provision. As out of town and internet expands,we should expect some retreat of the High Street in some places. Landlords need to be able to convert fringe properties to different uses, and planners with town centre managers where they exist need to work with landlord groups at defining and sustaining a realistic amount of good shopping space within towns.
3. High rents. The market is likely eventually to resolve this problem by putting rents down. Rents are sticky downwards in the UK thanks to upwards only review clauses which are common. The market would clear more quickly and shops have more chance of trading profitably if the rent levels adjusted. This is not something governemnt can or should force. It is currently happening by forcing administration or bankruptcy on the weaker groups. The shops are then taken over at lower rents by new owners or operators.
4. Access and parking. Local government could do so much more to make free and cheap parking available for shoppers. Sensible time limits can stop this parking being used by long stay and all day users. Road networks should be reviewed so that junction capacity and safety is enhanced into and out of our main town centres. If you are going to shop and are expecting to make a number of larger purchases, you cannot take them home on the bus.
Summary of recommendations in the Mary Portas review:
1.
Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
2.
Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”
3.
Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District
4.
Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business
5.
Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
6.
Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
7.
Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
8.
Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
9.
Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
10.
Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
11.
Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape
12.
Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
13.
Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own
14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework 15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota 16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers 17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report 18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses 19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant 20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them 21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space 22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders” 23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords 24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans 25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans
26.
Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system
27.
Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”
28.
Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

175 Comments

  1. Single Acts
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    When I see recommendations like no.26 I rather despair at the people who are writing recommendations. Of course they already do pay a fortune in ransom money to the council via the section 106 agreement. Then I read no.19 and 20 and wonder if the lady thinks landlords or banks like empty properties and no rent?

    As for the “affordable shops” idea, well it’s panto season I suppose. This has been an unmitigated disaster in housing so clearly let’s extend the concept?

    And this idea that some kind of local council “strategy team” can turn things around in some way is surely transparent nonsense that anyone can see. Don’t expect the council to waste this opportunity to employ some more worker drones for empire building however.

    If the government were serious about promoting retailing (I am unclear why this should even be a policy objective, but anyway), simply abolish the uniform business rate for retailers. Many people simply do not realise how much this is. A few years ago I looked at taking on a franchise retail outlet in a secondary area of the new Mall in Basingstoke. The business was trading well but the business rate (i.e. the amount of money the ‘Tony Soprano’ council wanted to allow trading was in excess of £50,000, or a grand a week to open the door).

    Have we perhaps stumbled upon the reason why high street retailers are failing?

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Banks and landlords often do prefer empty properties and no rent; rather than lowering the rent for everyone, including existing businesses, in the hope of attracting new businesses. Penalising them will encourage them to either set rents at a suitable level or to sell the property they’re not using.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

        No they do not, in general, why on earth would they?

      • libertarian
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

        Utter and total rubbish, an empty property is a disaster for landlords

      • APL
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

        uanime5: “Banks and landlords often do prefer empty properties and no rent”

        Now substantiate your assertion for the scenario where a landlord has a mortgage to pay, yet his empty property is not generating any revenue.

        Commercial landlords often set lower rents, it usually depends on the demand and the economy.

      • Bob
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        @uanime5

        Do you have any commercial experience?

    • davidb
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      And the rates department wont go away. They will add a surcharge to a late payment, they will send a Sherriff Officer to demand payment even if that costs more than the value of the debt, they will pursue a debt that most private enterprises would simply write off. A local sales tax should replace business rates at the very least.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      The business rates are a scandal this together with high rents is the main problem. Parking charges do not help either. It’s funny though how the large supermarkets make even more money when the price of commodities and other costs goes up, any other business would make less.What does that tell you? The prices in the discount supermarkets have trebled on many items over the last ten years and they have got away with it. What do they have to do to fail and how can any small business compete with this?

  2. Patrick
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Of all these good suggestions surely parking is the most important. All retailers need footfall. Empty high streets are going to be death for all retailers. But local councils seem bent on making it more difficult for people to drive in for a day at the shops. Crazy!

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    The centre of Wisbech, Cambs is literally falling down. I am not speaking metaphorically either. When I was looking for a place to start up a Free School, I went round looking and discovered, to my horror, that most of the buildings round the central market were unsafe (legally). My son is an architect (RIBA) and he was horrified at what he saw.
    The Market Place is now almost entirely composed of Charity Shops, Money Lenders, Poundlands and so on. The Church at the centre is just about on its last legs; the Chapels are almost all closed. The Schools went a hundred years ago. So why go to town?
    The Market still functions efficiently and I was able, this Saturday, to buy some petrol lighter fluid (rare) and some modellers’ putty (specialist) from ancient outlets which are still clinging on. Many of the eighteenth century buildings are now Addaction, Probation, NACRO and so on. The local Newspaper Offices, too are all but gone.

    In the 1920s, the whole of the centre of the town was a magnet – thronged with people shopping, visiting the many pubs, going to school, chatting and perhaps getting married at the many historic local places of worship.

    On the other hand, we now have an outstanding set of outlets like ASDA, TESCO, and now a brand new Morrisons on the outer rim of the town. And lots of us have computers…….

    One final thought: In the olden days, a retired Policeman or a widow could start up a small shop easily and invest all their savings. Little or no tax (free service given by the Councillors in those days), no interfering busybodies, lots of customers if you provided a good service, and a job which gave you status.
    The huge question you are raising is this: are we trying to put Humpty Dumpty back on his wall?
    And there, I just cannot help you, I am afraid.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      “The huge question you are raising is this: are we trying to put Humpty Dumpty back on his wall?”

      We should go with the flow. The car and the internet have changed everything. We should invert the shape of towns such as Wisbech. Residential in the middle, with strips malls (not just supermarkets) round the edge. Stop the supermarkets selling such things as medicine, require them to provide small retail units.

      • Antisthenes
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Protectionism is not the answer it only puts up prices and reduces quality. The French like this form of planning hence their intransigence over CAP reform that maintains high food prices and excludes cheaper imports just to keep their farmers happy. Just another example of vested interest obtaining favourable conditions at the expense of society as a whole.

    • Rebecca Hanson
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Mike I hope you will direct some of your enthusiasm and energy for your area into taking a general interesting in all the consultations regarding the future of your Wisbech town centre and supporting and working with the other people who care.

  4. Robert K
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    The Portas recommendations seem complex and fiddly and seek to heap initiatives on top of existing planning controls and taxes.
    The “decline” in town centres is not a problem or a crisis. The changes simply reflect changing consumer preference towards out of town locations with big stores and easy parking. Left to their own devices, the property markets in town centres will adjust.
    The change that needs to happen is to cut local rates and reduce local planning constraints.

  5. Antisthenes
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Some of what you suggest just adds another bureaucratic layer. Usurping councils is not the answer changing how councils think and act is more appropriate and to do that they must be more accountable and more democrat than they currently are or you devolve power to parishes and wards. Much of what you suggest is in the area of deregulation and doing away with restrictive practices is most sensible and should be pursued with vigour. Your stick and carrot suggestions have merit but only if they have a cost and economic benefit and do not evolve in to central planning and control. First it should be identified as to what high streets are most suitable for. My belief is that it would find that a mixture of residential, leisure and commercial activities would be the most appropriate. Encouraging back high street shopping is going to be very limited newer and better ways of shopping are evolving and nothing will change that. However my suggestion to improve the lot of the hight street would go for your deregulation and doing away with restrictive practices encourage councils to set as low as possible rates and let the free market do the rest. If the councils get their sums right then something will be encouraged back that will regenerate if not they will have to keep doing their sums until it does.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      How can councils made of democratically elected councillors be made more accountable and more democratic? Also why will parishes and wards be any better?

      • APL
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

        uanime5: ” How can councils made of democratically elected councillors be made more accountable and more democratic?”

        Simple, simply invert the local authority funding model.

        Currently income tax is collected centrally and doled out in the form of grants to the LAs. Council tax is a fraction of what the LAs spend, the rest is made up of grants from central government. Consaquently the LAs know who their paymasters are.

        If they collected income tax, and offered a grant to central government – controlled by local votes and referenda, that would make the system more democratic.

        • APL
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

          … In short, what ‘localism’ might have been if it were anything more than an empty Tory slogan.

  6. lifelogic
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Local government huge parking charges and fines are the main problem, over taxation and over regulation in general, too high rates and change of use is often difficult, panning can be restrictive and costly these are the main problems.

    Also the tax and waste policies from Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron have left customer with no money to spend anyway and unfair competition from charity shops with lower rates, free stock and volunteers.

    Mary Portas Cameron’s TV/PR spin person seem to have some silly left wing solutions as you might expect of Cameron and her:-

    13.
    Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own

    So yet more regulation and controls

    14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework

    So force development into the wrong place by law.

    15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota.

    What a load on drivel that sounds.

    16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers

    Sound like more PR and pointless nonsense.

    17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report

    So some silly PR words in the annual report that few will read other than a few shareholders.

    18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses

    A “contact of care”? Perhaps they should all go for some aromatherapy and a massage together twice a year!

    19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant

    What landlord want to leave things vacant they already have to pay rates even if they are vacant and get no rent?

    20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them

    What do you think they bank are trying to do? Of course they want to sell, rent or develop them.

    21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
    22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders” 23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords

    Yes get local authoritis to be landlord because they run everything else so well do they not? A new register more pointless jobs and over regulation. “When landlords are negligent” I assume this means they can not find a tenant due to the huge state having taken all the money.

    24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans 25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans

    PR spin for Cameron does nothing useful beyond this.

    27.
    Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”
    28.
    Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept

    More government waste and pointless jobs I assume and unfair competition for real business.

    In short she want more government activity, more regulation and thus more taxation which is what created the problem in the first place. One would not really expect anyone doing a BBC tv program to have other than half baked, ever bigger state, left wing views.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      At least she did not say that all shops should all have pointless Photo Voltaic cells on the roofs and windmills and be forced to use heat pumps and heat recovery systems I suppose. All overseen and regulated by the wonderful local authorities.

      • zorro
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Don’t give Mr Huhne any more ideas or opportunities!

        Seriously though, this report is Cameroonism on steroids…..

        28 recommendations…..as soon as you see that number on an issue of this nature, the regulators start rubbing their hands.

        The issues re town centre businesses are clear, parking, council interference/regulation, and too high taxation which discourages local businesses, and only accommodates charity/low price shops who get cheap rates.

        zorro

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      In short the solution are as usual:- less government, cheaper parking (not cash cow parking to fund state sector wages), less tax, fewer regulations, fewer planning and building controls, a level playing field and convert to residential if no longer viable as shops. Certainly not the socialist Portas/Cameron nonsense as suggested here.

      Also leave the public with some money to spend for a change rather than taxing it all off them.

      • Mike Stallard
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        What is the centre of town for?

        It ought to be a place of example. An excellent bookshop where you can browse – something the internet makes impossible. An excellent cheese shop where you can get recipes, ideas and tastes. An excellent local butcher where you can get exactly what you want with a smile, from a butcher who knows the producer. A superb model shop which sends you out excited. A local restaurant where you can get ideas and excellent service. Above all, the town centre ought to be a place where you are inspired.
        Supermarkets, however big, just simply cannot do this. And they do not want to. You just leave with the usual brand names from the usual brand names.
        At the moment all the “education” is down to the ladies of a certain age in the local Tech. And they are not inspiring, however dutiful they appear on paper.

        • uanime5
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          I’ve always found it easy to brows for books on the Internet as most online shops have search engines and recommendations.

          Some supermarkets do have butchers, fishmongers, and people working at a deli.

          • Bob
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            Have you been buying books from offshore internet operations to avoid vat?

            Where can I find a supermarket deli that sells proper bacon and where the staff have knowledge of their products, instead of just weighing, placing into a plastic bag and sticking on a machine generated price label?

        • lifelogic
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          People now go in book and other shops to look at the goods then to order them on the internet far more cheaply. Sometimes even on their iphones even while still in the shop! You will not change that.

    • Morvan
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      lifelogic

      Excellent demolition job, but with nil chance of being taken on board. Her report typifies the complete nonsense that emanate from our ‘rulers’ today, and I am certain will be taken on board by the Coalition with gusto.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        I assume the instructions to Mary Portas were “how can we pretend we have been doing something about all the empty shops (mainly caused by over big government) at the next election. Bankers and Landlords are always unpopular please remember and some special schemes with good names, here and there to point to at the election would be good. Do not bother to look at any real or lasting solutions just pointless tinsel in a few select areas is what we want – something for MPs to point to – ready for the next election time.”

        • Bob
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          Once again LL, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      I’m surprised you didn’t support the ‘contract of care’ as it’s calling for an end to contracts where the rent always increased regardless of how badly the economy is doing.

      Also landlords and banks often leave buildings empty because if they have to reduce their rents to get new businesses their existing businesses will demand lower rates as well. Thus landlords and banks are prepared to wait for someone who can pay the price they’re charging.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        I do not think many landlords would want to keep shops with no tenants, no rent and paying council taxes for very long unless they are mad.

        Tenancy agreements upward only or not are contract freely entered into by tenant and landlord and should not be interfered by governments and legislation. No good would come of it.

      • libertarian
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        You haven’t got a clue what you are talking about

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Lifelogic “13.Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own”

      Why a use class of their own ?

      Why not a subclass of “banks” specialised by not being eligeable for tax-payer bailouts ?

  7. Caterpillar
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    1. If your business is within X metres or Y stores of a charity shop or in a Z density of charity shops then you are exempt from VAT, have 80% relief on rates, don’t have to pay minimum wage etc.

    2. When out of town commercial developments occur, they shouldn’t be out of town. Build a town – or at least contiguous mixed (park, residential, retail, office) usage. More urban sprawl with captured green areas, cycle paths, pedestrians ways and car-parking. Sprawl generates village feels – parts of London, Stratford Road near Solihull Birmingham, Auckland in New Zealand but not Oxford.

    3. Access, access & access & parking, parking, parking.

    4. Ease change of use so mixed level uses are found naturally (commercial properties becoming residential and vice versa).

    5. On Mary Portas’s point 5, it may only be worth (self-employed) trading some of the time and being employed elsewhere the rest of the time so the need to simplify (i.e. dump) NI in particular so that mixed income is trivial to operationalise for all without an accountant. [Or let people trade upto a level like the rent-a-room scheme for letting].

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      1) Why would anyone work in a shop that doesn’t pay minimum wage when there are other shops that do? Especially when this shop isn’t competing with the charity shop and doesn’t donate the money it makes to charity.

      2) Not sure how this would work. Unless there’s a large amount of room around out of town shops you can’t build more parks and houses.

      3) For this you need lots of space, space, space; which is often lacking in most towns.

      4) That would allow anyone to turn their house into a pub, despite the objections of the neighbours, making it a very bad idea.

      5) Surely you’d only need to do your own accounting when you’re self-employed and your employer will do the accounting when you work for them.

      • Caterpillar
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        1. The point is that a high density of charity shops act as an indicator species to the levels of costs that a business can bear in the area. (If it is important for town/social cohesion for there to be shops then allow them similar rates as charities.)
        2. Precisely. 80% of UK is green – build on green, green on built.
        3. Hence the good side of sprawl see 2.
        4. Aren’t pub numbers going down? [Anyway it is the general point, if some premises become residences then there might be more local demand – its a bit of the mixed use argument of 2 & 3 – there have to means to get there.]
        5. I was specifically referring to MP’s number 5 “Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not”. When transitioning jobs/careers people can be part self-employed and part employed – it may be a small hassle but the NI of each is treated differently and has to be sorted out. At the margins small barriers add up and deter, so if MP wants to encourage new market traders the transition needs to be simple.

        • alan jutson
          Posted January 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          caterpiller

          agree with your point 5.

          Many small businesses, (even some large ones) start off part time ,with just a toe in the water, before taking the plunge.

          Current regulations, tax and insurance is a minefield in such cases.

  8. Frank
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks to sharing a great post!

  9. David
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    John,

    There is a simple measure, which would boost employment and the retail sector: open on Sunday with full trading hours. Making Sunday like any other day would enable the retail sector to expand and enable shoppers more opportunities to shop around their ever busier lives.

    When I was in Taiwan, I was struck by the simplicity of their 10-10 opening hours 7 days a week. The vast majority of the population have no stake in keeping restrictive trading hours on Sundays. It is anachronistic.

    What do you think about this John?

    Reply: I doubt it would save the High Street,as the large multiples would be much better placed to take advantage than small specialist shops. I have no objection in principle, assuming traders and employees were free to negotiate and decide their own hours fo work and opening.

  10. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    John I know it’s not fashionable with Conservative policy to say it but your four key points have totally ignored the importance of intelligent and long term town oversight.

    I live in a very successful town centre and over the years every significant decision has been carefully scrutinised by all interested parties. The decision to allow a substantial supermarket to come to town took about 10 years to make and, against all obvious and easy choice, it was brought into the town centre. The cattle market was closed (and it moved out of town) and rebuilt stone by stone into being the new supermarket to ensure that almost all the traditional footfall remained intact.

    We have a town centre here with many very pleasant but low cost and relatively low margin businesses. People are in business as a way of life rather than just for profit. I’m afraid this raises a problem for the potential efficacy of your point 1 as it reminds us that there are more complex dynamics at play here than you might expect.

    I suggest interested parties tour successful and thriving town centres and stop in at long established business and ask about local planning processes. I think you’ll find that they are carefully and intelligently resolved over whatever time period it takes to resolve them.

    Mary recommends:
    “1.
    Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets.”
    This is essential and, in essence, everything else flows from it. However I would change it to empahsise two points.
    Firstly that town team must be fully accountable to local democracy. It must not supplant and replace it. It must deliberately involve as many concerned local parties as possible so that they become experienced in and confident with the proper democratic processes of local oversight. I would strongly recommend systems of online discussion and consultation be rapidly developed and widely used and will happily contribute to the understanding of what is needed to achieve that if asked.

    Most areas have well established local forums and its important we look to build on and enhance those systems of local democracy rather than to supplant and marginalise them.

    Secondly I’m concerned about the focus only on retail and business and not on the whole health of the town centre. To properly thrive a town centre must fully understand the interests of the diverse stakeholders in it which, as well as the diverse interests, often also include residential, arts, access and leisure interests. Where you have a thriving town centre no interests are ignored. There has often been to hasty a push to clear residents from town centres for example and they can contribute a great deal to the oversight and sense of safety and security of a town centre. In some cases the rapid reconversion of some commercial properties into being residential or part residential will create an inviting and secure atmosphere where otherwise there would be a depressing empty building.

    I grew up in the worst of the 80s troubles on the edge of a council estate where all the shops were either deserted or heavily shuttered and everything was vandalised, crime was rife and every family had an alsation or a rottweiler. I’d do anything I could to prevent a return to that and I think the internet is the magic bullet we need to prevent it. We need to make sure we use it wisely.

    Reply: I did not ignore the question of town management, expressly referring to it and the need for the Council, town management and landlords to work together on defining and promoting the centre. I agree a good centre needs more than just retail, but a lively shopping area also needs to avoid too much dead frontage.

    • Rebecca Hanson
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Then perhaps I could extract and focus on the particular point that as part of the planning process for each town attention should be paid to the understanding of why things are as they are in that town.

      There are always reasons for the status quo – some of them will be surprising and some of them will have been justified in their time but will not longer be relevant. Where there exists some people in the development process who have a fluent and flexible understanding of these, suggestions from planning experts and other towns can be rapidly evaluated for relevance in away which is not possible if the historical knowledge remains implicit.

      Taking time to be aware of the reasons for the status quo is an often undervalued but essential component of efficient and effective planning.
      Thatcher would have been wise to understand the lessons from history regarding the poll tax. This government would have been wise to bother to engage with the real reasons for the status quo rather than just assuming that they were related to everyone in education being stupid or self interested.

      Re: dead frontage.
      In Cockermouth we had to deal with a lot of that after the flood. Someone huge boards with stretch canvas prints of the history of the town on them and rapidly got them up in the empty windows. Yes, there was obviously a cost involved but it certainly made a huge difference to the feel of the place.

      We have very long shop frontages but in most cases there are people living above the shops and other business. It helps that the town has a Norman layout with plenty of yards and courts full of inhabited cottages behind the shops too. Plenty of obvious potential customers and people who care about the are the shops are in living right there.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Sorry about all the typos. I think it’s just about understandable so won’t repost but will take more care in future. Any questions please ask and I will clarify.

        • alan jutson
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Rebecca

          What was wrong with the pole tax ?

          It gave more people a financial share/stake in the running of the Town, as well as a voting voice.

          A lot paid a little, instead of a few paying a lot.

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            Take a trip to Scotland and ask about the history of the poll tax Alan.

            Are you suggesting we tax Polish people?

          • alan jutson
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

            oops

            Poll tax !!!!!

            Although perhaps we could tax immigrants on entry as well !

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

            Margaret Thatcher got of more lightly than Charles I.

          • Bazman
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

            A pool tax for not having a swimming pool?

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          It’s probably worth explaining the point about using stretched canvas with print of historical photos on empty frontages.

          That was the right solution for us because we had some money (kindly donate because of the crisis), everything was very, very damp and the canvas used was resilient to that, we had many empty frontages with glass in place which suited this medium and because the use of history was deliberate to help people see that the change we were going through was part of a bigger journey of change over time rather than just an ending.

          Different towns need different solutions but it’s important to cherish those empty spaces.

          If they’re boarded up, an A3 laminating machine, some pouches, a staple gun and some primary schools happy to take up the challenge of bringing the place to life.

          If they’re not boarded then the magic bullet could be a retired teacher with the nouse to go and persuade the owners to trust them with the keys and the influence to persaude the local high school to get some art students to transfer their GCSE or A-level art installations there after their exams.

          If they’re covered with metal shutters then you need some bright paint for metal.

          It’s a great idea to use the spaces for communication about positive things going on.

          Perhaps it can be advertising space for home, small or internet business that provide employment in the local area?

          It’s best if the displays can be regularly updated to bring people to look at them.

          It’s great if local people can play a part in raising money for them or creating them as they will care for them more. It’s particularly good if you can get young people who are unemployed involved in the process of deciding what to do with them. Perhaps some of those young people did art and this will be a chance for them to develop their skills further in a practical context.

          It’s great to get them involved in gardening.

          And so on and so on and so on.
          Where you have people who are unemployed you have the time and energy to make a positive difference. If you don’t use it it could well make a negative difference.

          Whatever’s done needs to be PRd as much as possible. Shout about the good stuff.

          All this can be discussed on the internet.

      • Max Dunbar
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        The Pole Tax was used by our self-appointed spokesmen up here in Scotland such as the marxist Tommy”perjury”Sheridan as an excuse to attack Thatcher and all that she stood for.
        Tory blood was smelt when John Major became Prime Minister and the government defeat by the communists was probably the worst humiliation for the Tory Party in years. Incidentally, the dreary and monotonous “milk-snatcher” chant still goes on in the rain-soaked wastes of Scotland from time to time.

        • Max Dunbar
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

          Correction. Poll Tax.

          • alan jutson
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

            Max

            Agreed, better a lot pay a little, than a few pay a lot.

            The greater the number who actually pay for services, the more people realise the cost of providing those services.

            Graffitti a wall and it costs to clean it up, drop litter it costs to clear it up, smash up road signs, it costs to replace, etc, etc.

            We all want street lights, the services of the police, street cleaners, grass cut in open spaces etc, so spread the load.

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          🙂

          There was an excellent Sheridan sketch in the run up to the bells.

          And that Vajazzle sketch was very funny to.

          But I thought the Polish communities in Scotland were pretty well liked and integrated?

          • Max Dunbar
            Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            Poles on the brain! We like the Poles too. There are discreet memorial plaques to them in Scotland dating from the war.

  11. Fiona Faith Maddock
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I am so glad you have raised this topic. These things are long overdue for review. I broadly agree with all the points in the post – yours and MP’s. I don’t want to write a long post discussing the detail but I should like to say this. In European countries, the shopping experience includes a great mix of coffee bars and restaurants ranging from snack bars to silver service. The consumer can have a pleasant outing. High Streets and shopping areas need to be places where people enjoy meeting up. There needs to be a buzz, not dank, dirty, empty concrete, and a dearth of street furniture. An attractive environment will increase footfall and hence business.
    Here’s an example. I leave near a small retail development (Maiden Place) constructed in dull and uniform rectangles with no relieving features. Several of the units are empty. The place feels like a graveyard. On either side of it are a residential development built around a square, which has some lovely old trees, but the square itself is for parking only, and on the other side of it is a park with a play area. Given that this site was originally green field, with a little more imagination, the parking area could have been designed larger, with a suitable traffic access for a regular monthly market, such as Woodley enjoys. Think what a difference that would make to local residents and businesses, and to council revenues.
    One final point, the uniform business rate has longer been a killer of new unique retail start-ups. Having been in retail myself, and having experienced the landlords and the rate-collectors wanting to take your profit (and the rest) before you’ve earned it, I know what I’m talking about. Different levels of market trading would enable entrepreneurs to test concepts before making the big investment.

    Reply: As an advocate of local shops like the Maiden Place development, I agree it could be improved further. I recently went to the opening of the new dental surgery there, and have in the past taken up problems with policing which I think are now resolved. I will talk to Councillors about this, as they are the ones with the planning and local powers.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Fiona

      Agree fully with your points, and certainly Maiden Place could do with more parking, if for no other reason than to accomodate cars during our Lions Firework Night, held at Laurel Park (nearby)

      But Wokingham Council along with many other Councils, dislike anything to do with cars, they want everyone to use public transport, and they go to extreme measures by restrictuing car parking space on new developments both retail and residential.

      At the moment there is a new residential development taking place just off Molly Millers Lane in Wokingham (next to the new Supermarket, where its car park is restricted to one and half hours).

      Its a large development (over 3 years programme to construct) of one, and two bedroom apartments. A friend of ours made enquires, they are pleasant enough appaertments, reasonable-high as prices go for this area, but when asking about parking, was told only one space per unit, and not a single visitor space as that was a stipulation of the planning approval, the developer wanted more, there is plenty of space for more, but no, not allowed.
      The surrounding area is part commercial, part residential and all roads have double yellow lines to restrict parking on them, and this is at least half a mile from the Town Centre and station.
      Ghetto’s of the future is what Councils will get with this stupid policy, as people will park anywhere they can, on paths, on grassed open spaces, and who can blame them, not even a parking space allocated for a visiting doctor or home helps. MADNESS..

      Reply: The last government restricted Council’s freedom to allow sensible amounts of parking for new developments. One of the advances from localism is to be freedom for Councils to accept or encourage better parking provision. I have urged local Councillors to adopt this asap.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Reply to reply

        Given your suggestion is being listend to by the Council, then a new additional but simple application for a change, should be available under achitects notes, and this should be sufficient to increase the parking available, but I fear it is very easy/too easy for the Council to just say no.

        Sorry John, but from experience of making hundreds of Planning applications over decades to many local authorites, I do not blieve that Wokingham Council would agree to such a change.

        They used to be very good at commonsense with simple explanations, comments, ideas and suggestions with regard to any application, but I am afraid not any more, they have jumped on the, I will mind my own back first, tick all the boxes, you have not jumped through enough hoops yet, and the we will hold your application up because we can type of attitude in more recent years, which is a very great shame.

        Perhaps the officers have been leant on by someone higher up, but it seems more like Council policy to me, as I have actually been in the room when applications have been before the committee, and I have listened to the comment about deliberately limiting parking spaces on more than one occassion, to try and force people to use a public trasport system (buses) which stops at 18.00 hours.

        IT IS DAFT. PLAIN AND SIMPLE, DAFT

  12. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Happy New Year, Mr Redwood. Long may your career and blog prosper.

    Let us hone in on the over provision of High Street commercial premises. There is often an opportunity to shrink the supply by demolishing some shops and building houses in their place. That would help to ease the under supply of houses in the UK. The reason that it doesn’t happen more often is this reluctance to accept that the Internet shopping revolution is permanent.

  13. alan jutson
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Reason why I do not go shopping in large Town centres is ease of access, parking and the cost of parking, Simple as that.

    Yes I am old enough to have a bus pass, but as you say, difficult to carry shopping back on a bus, when you can park out of town (easy access), park (for free) , trolly goodies to car, and drive home (without waiting in the rain or cold for a bus).

    Example:
    Reading is our nearest big town, and traffic congestion means the 7 mile journey (only the journey) takes anything up to 2 hours for a round trip, and Parking, if you can find a space is expensive.
    Yes there is a better selection of shops, but so many high streets now tend to look all the same (similar outlets).

    If we go non essential/casual shopping/window shopping we tend to go to Market Towns, Henley, Marlow, and yes Wokingham, where there still is a bit of diversity, where we perhaps have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat at the same time.

    When I was in business we looked at the possibility of having a presence in the high street, but were put off by the enormous fixed costs, and lease agreements. We eventually had our own Franchise in a Major PLC Departmental store for a number of years, where we only paid a fixed percentage of our turnover (in that store) for floor space, a much more sensible option for us.
    Thus whilst we had to conform to a degree to the overall policy of the store with regard to how we operated, the cost of simply staffing our space and for display stock was very sensible. It also worked for the Department store, as it was in their interest for us to be successful as well.

    Thus we were ahead of Mary Portas at the time, as this is exactly what her own outlets are now attempting.

    So it is access, free parking, and diversity from me.

    From any potential shopkeeper, it is a low fixed cost, so that fixed overheads can be kept competitive. Low rents, Low business rates, and flexible lease arrangements.

  14. ian wragg
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    The problem with High Streets and town centres as I see it is the populace seems predominantly immigrant or housing benefit recipients which make it a very sinister place most of the time.
    My car was vandalised in broad daylight as I went to the bank.
    The streets are filthy first thing in the morning.
    I think town centres should be redeveloped with some quality accomodation so the good people can reclaim them.

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Lots of shopping centre regeneration schemes get funded or generate money by creating new residential buildings out of old central council buildings and shops which are no longer viable and turning them into residential blocks or mixed residential and other uses. Often the ambition is to attract higher socio economic people into these new dwellings and help transform the balance of the population which is often biased towards poor people living in old run down city centre accommodation.
      Having a mix of residential/shops/etc is healthy.
      Having a good mixed economy with folk living in flats above shops etc can be great too, often it works great in other European countries. Having a wide variety of socio economic groups all peacefully co-existing can be good too.
      The things that stop such schemes ultimately working in the UK is the way the state runs things by catchment areas. If you are affluent and move into an inner city newly regenerated accomodation often the accommodation itself is great. But you are then in an inner city postcode which has many dire implications. You have no choice but to register with a GP serving the rest of the inner city demographic, when you are ill and most vulnerable you will end up sharing a waiting room with the local drugs dealers and petty criminal underclass, after a few such experiences you will find that although the mixed socio economic groups and great accommodation and the area are something that you enjoy you cannot tolerate the threat to your families health by such healthcare provision. You will do what the UK middle classes do and move to where you are allowed to register with the better GP’s.
      When you have children you will realise they will be going to an inner city school if you don’t get out quick. Once again the whole catchment area way this country is run will force you to move out of an otherwise acceptable place to live.
      You will find the regime on the bars and pubs around the residential accommodation in the centre is very poor. Late /Noisy bars will destroy any chance you have of getting a good night’s sleep and will force you to move out.
      Your nice secure underground car park will get broken into regularly and your car will get damaged. The police will be notable for their absence.
      The communal areas around your flats will get broken into by rough sleepers and druggies to spend the night. The police will be notable by their absence.
      At some point you will take the only option open to you and move out.
      We do these regeneration schemes so badly compared to the rest of Europe because the rest of Europe does not condemn you to the worst GP in town because of your postcode, the rest of Europe does not condemn your children to the worst school in town because of your postcode, the rest of Europe manages the bars and pubs into the night much better – sure they run all night but the local residents get a chance to sleep!
      Nice well planned central accommodation goes downhill as decent people move out and drug dealers, prostitutes, and students move in as the only demographics able to co-exist with the noise at night time.
      We have nice expensive newly regenerated central areas rapidly going downhill.
      It’s the British way.
      More regulation is not the answer. The answer is removing the link between postcode and which GP and school you can use. The answer is forcing the bars and clubs to keep the local residents sweet and co-exist like they do in the rest of Europe.

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Lots of shopping centre regeneration schemes get funded or generate money by creating new residential buildings out of old central council buildings and shops which are no longer viable and turning them into residential blocks or mixed residential and other uses. Often the ambition is to attract higher socio economic people into these new dwellings and help transform the balance of the population which is often biased towards poor people living in old run down city centre accommodation.
      Having a mix of residential/shops/etc is healthy.
      Having a good mixed economy with folk living in flats above shops etc can be great too, often it works great in other European countries. Having a wide variety of socio economic groups all peacefully co-existing can be good too.
      The things that stop such schemes ultimately working in the UK is the way the state runs things by catchment areas. If you are affluent and move into an inner city newly regenerated accommodation often the accommodation itself is great. But you are then in an inner city postcode which has many dire implications. You have no choice but to register with a GP serving the rest of the inner city demographic, when you are ill and most vulnerable you will end up sharing a waiting room with the local drugs dealers and petty criminal underclass, after a few such experiences you will find that although the mixed socio economic groups and great accommodation and the area are something that you enjoy you cannot tolerate the threat to your families health by such healthcare provision. You will do what the UK middle classes do and move to where you are allowed to register with the better GP’s.
      When you have children you will realise they will be going to an inner city school if you don’t get out quick. Once again the whole catchment area way this country is run will force you to move out of an otherwise acceptable place to live.
      You will find the regime on the bars and pubs around the residential accommodation in the centre is very poor. Late /Noisy bars will destroy any chance you have of getting a good night’s sleep and will force you to move out.
      Your nice secure underground car park will get broken into regularly and your car will get damaged. The police will be notable for their absence.
      The communal areas around your flats will get broken into by rough sleepers and druggies to spend the night. The police will be notable by their absence.
      At some point you will take the only option open to you and move out.
      We do these regeneration schemes so badly compared to the rest of Europe because the rest of Europe does not condemn you to the worst GP in town because of your postcode, the rest of Europe does not condemn your children to the worst school in town because of your postcode, the rest of Europe manages the bars and pubs into the night much better – sure they run all night but the local residents get a chance to sleep!
      Nice well planned central accommodation goes downhill as decent people move out and drug dealers, prostitutes, and students move in as the only demographics able to co-exist with the noise at night time.
      We have nice expensive newly regenerated central areas rapidly going downhill.
      It’s the British way.
      More regulation is not the answer. The answer is removing the link between postcode and which GP and school you can use. The answer is forcing the bars and clubs to keep the local residents sweet and co-exist like they do in the rest of Europe, answer directly to the residents not the licensing and planning committee.
      So much of this is obvious.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        sorry about the double post, laptop problems last night…

  15. Alan Hill
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Too late for many high streets I’m afraid. The world has changed.

  16. Iain Gill
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    “Over taxation and regulation”. Over taxation yes, overregulation depends very much depends.
    There is a problem with the tax perks given to charity shops which has killed the free market businesses which were operating in similar sectors, some of the charities are pseudo big businesses these days not sure this is always for the best. On the other hand some places like Basildon have free book exchange shops in otherwise empty shops which are doing a lot to help teach the kids to read etc, I actually think this provision could be rolled out to most towns for little money and much social benefit.
    “Too much provision”. Yes but I don’t want my tax pounds or government regulation propping up failing retailing concepts. I like internet shopping if town centre shops cannot compete tough luck that’s free market economics. You have to be cruel to be kind.
    “Landlords need to be able to convert fringe properties to different uses”, yes although bars and pubs need to be looked at carefully especially ones allowed to open late into the night or play loud music late.
    High rents. Let the markets fix it. Don’t rig the market. Lots of city centre properties are owned by the public sector anyways.
    “Access and parking. Local government could do so much more to make free and cheap parking available for shoppers. Sensible time limits can stop this parking being used by long”. AGREED.
    “Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets”. Depends. Coventry city centre has had such a thing for a long time called “CV One” and having lived in Cov city centre I regard it as a failure. Sure they got new flats built in the city centre and attracted lots of professionals who wanted that lifestyle, but over time they have increasingly moved out and been increasingly replaced with drug dealers, prostitutes and students as these are the only demographics that can tolerate the late night noisy bars which are encouraged by “CV One”. Also it’s got to be said since the Conservatives won Cov and changed the bus routes to run through pedestrianized areas it’s made the whole place significantly more dangerous for pedestrians. Lots more I could say but I regard “CV One” as a disastrous non democratic failure. Also big city centres need much better health provision.
    Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not. Depends what regulations you regard as unnecessary, you won’t be popular if people are getting food poisoning or similar from dodgy practises.
    Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers, NO don’t cross subsidise let the market decide.
    Internet shopping and more competition is a good thing. City centres need to transform themselves but should be driven by market forces not top down political desires. Free the market up more and it will fix itself.
    What government needs to do is 1 Fix inner city policing 2 Fix inner city health provision (access to good docs for all including shoppers from far away) 3 Loud late bars and housing don’t mix, stop messing this up (funnily enough countries like Belgium get this much better we could learn a lot)

  17. oldtimer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    IIRC the rise of out of town supermarkets and retail shed outlets was itself the result of deliberate change to planning regulations by governments of the day – in the 1970s and 1980s if my memory serves me correctly. The wheel has now turned full circle and the effort now is to undo the damage these policies have caused to the High Street. The present problem is, therefore, in part a consequence of past government meddling; Obviously the rise of the internet is increasingly another significant influence.

    Overall the Portas recommendations do not impress. They smack of too much meddling, central direction and attempts at micro management. The two suggestions she makes that are appropriate for local government are (1) to make free parking available for shoppers and (2) to “address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street”.

    It is self evident that there is too much retail capacity for current designated uses. The answer is to remove the existing use restrictions and to encourage different uses with the capacity to attract visitors. That will involve trial and error and, probably, the offer of some incentives – not least by the landlords of empty properties. It would best be done at the local town hall level, not from Whitehall.

  18. ROGER THE PILOT
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Part of the price of being visionary and radical and all those other jolly things is, of course, that one may be misunderstood and even hindered by persons who are rigid in their thinking, or who have a vested interest in the status quo ,In this case ‘The Local Council’
    Doubtless this explains why a couple of years ago; when I was involved in submitted an enterprising application to introduce a novel, zero- carbon mode of short journey town centre transport was thwarted by the Council’s Leader.
    Despite the fact that the company requesting the application would encouraging a spirit of enterprise amongst the boroughs young people, by offering to employ 35 people immediately, the council, who despite advocating their wish to adhere to ‘green’ issues and said in public that eco-friendly initiatives were areas where priory spending to create new jobs was being targeted; they resorted to reach back into ancient case law and quote arcane laws, and bureaucratic rules that were passed to control horse-drawn carriages and Hansom Cabs!
    After countless letters answering all their objections, I asked for a face-to-face to explain the entire business plan’ in detail, but no appeal before the ‘inner sanctum’ was allowed.
    The other point of issue in our town is it is the council who own many of the town centre buildings that are now standing empty and rotting away! It is they who ignore petitions and open out of town retail outlets. It is they who killed the nine town centres of our borough with their draconian parking restrictions.
    Until we get a grip on petty minded councils, no amount of initiatives from Mary Portas or any other guru will get town centre business back on its feet!

  19. ROGER THE PILOT
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Part of the price of being visionary and radical and all those other jolly things is, of course, that one may be misunderstood and even hindered by persons who are rigid in their thinking, or who have a vested interest in the status quo ,In this case ‘The Local Council’
    Doubtless this explains why a couple of years ago; when I was involved in submitted an enterprising application to introduce a novel, zero- carbon mode of short journey town centre transport, it was thwarted by the Council’s Leader.
    Despite the fact that the company requesting the application would be actively encouraging a spirit of enterprise amongst the boroughs unemployed young people, by offering to employ 35 unemployed people immediately, the council, who despite advocating their wish to adhere to ‘green’ issues and had previously said in public, that eco-friendly initiatives were areas where priory spending to create new jobs was being targeted; they resorted to reach back into ancient case law and quote arcane laws, and bureaucratic rules that were passed to control horse-drawn carriages and Hansom Cabs!
    After countless letters answering all their objections, I asked for a face-to-face to explain the entire business plan’ in detail, but no appeal before the ‘inner sanctum’ was allowed.
    The other point of issue in our town is it is the council who own many of the town centre buildings that are now standing empty and rotting away! It is they who ignore petitions and open out of town retail outlets. It is they who killed the nine town centres of our borough with their draconian parking restrictions.
    Until we get a grip on petty minded councils, no amount of initiatives from Mary Portas or any other guru will get town centre business back on its feet!

  20. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    If you look back over hundreds of years you can see the slow flow of functions away from the town centres. Industries got bigger and moved out. Slums were cleared and bigger estates were moved out. Churches closed and moved out. Cottage Hospitals closed and moved the function to larger hospitals, away from the town centres. Private housing moved out. Schools in the centre closed and consolidated elsewhere.

    I’m afraid trying to revivify the town centres, in the absence of local homes, industries, shops and schools etc. is bound to fail. The town centres need to be reborn as centres for something other than ‘traditional shops’. The city near me now has one major shopping mall and many pubs and restaurants. All the other shops, even on previously desirable pedestrian precincts are struggling. The only ‘original’ shopping area that is still hanging on is the covered market – which the council protect from competition by forbidding other markets within a certain radius… even though no one can find the original market charter.

    Other market towns still manage quite well though. I think it depends on the match between the demand for shops and the supply of them. Fiddling with either usually distorts the balance.

    Personally, I believe that we don’t need any further interference. Things will sort themselves out, but we will have to be patient. It could take years.

  21. Roger Goodacre
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    A couple of observations from France where the authorities are very keen on planning. Out-of-town supermarkets and retail zones have been established for very much longer than in the UK, and appear to have had few negative effects on town centre environments. In fact by removing the ‘big barn’ category of retailers (DIY, furniture and white goods stores etc) from town centres and grouping them together in one convenient area with easy access and free parking, the effect on the town centre environment has almost certainly been beneficial.

    Town centres in France now tend to offer a mix of medium and small size shops with a plentiful selection in every district of local (rather than chain) bakeries and food shops, specialist retailers, cafés and restaurants. Incidentally it’s noticeable, if you come from the UK, that there are no charity shops to be seen in the main shopping streets. The result of this strategy is that it’s much easier and more convenient for the consumer to know where to go to find specific types of goods, and town centres seem not to be experiencing the homogenisation of UK towns.

  22. Disaffected
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Where does one start?

    People still need city centres as a social hub for working, shopping, socialising etc.

    Council tax too high.
    Parking costs too high.
    Difficult to travel and reach, easier to visit out of town malls/complexes.
    City centres have become scary places to visit.
    Soft on crime measures do not offer a deterrent to offenders for all types of crime, from the petty to the serious, that put people off visiting the high street.
    Police charge councils for deploying officers into city centres?? This should be their job!! Based on crime and calls, city centres should have more police officers deployed than anywhere else.
    Public toilets are a prime example. Dirty squalid places where you could get robbed or made a victim of crime.
    Town centre partnerships are a good idea, but they are mainly talking shops and no one who attends has the authority to make decisions for the public sector body it represents to make a real difference. Crime and disorder partnerships are exactly the same, enormously costly and a waste of time (meetings for meetings sake). The yearly strategy will always be written up to be a success.

    Like Cameron’s personality these meetings are all talk and no substantive action. In fact he ought to join one he would be good at it- all hot air and bluster. Strong words, strategies and no action. Get a few monitoring bodies, a PR department and he could become a roaring success as a useless Czar or mayor or commissioner or government adviser or wretched consultant.

    We have been around this loop before. Politicians need to sort out local authorities and public sector bodies. They are paid and elected to do this. I hold them responsible for the failings on delivery and overspending not each and every public sector body. The government could stop this overnight.

    Pickles has done what exactly to reduce business rates or community charges? Publish pay and spends over £500- oh dear. If this is all he can do, he should stand down. Look at the cost of business rates and community charges and compare what the business or public get in return? As for useless Spellman refusing to increase weekly bin collections……..

  23. john w
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    John,i dont like the idea of a town team.They will be expensive,the tax payer will foot the bill and we dont need another layer of experts making things worse.Cheap parking and less tax would liven things up a bit.

    • Disaffected
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      They are already in existence in some towns and have been for a very long time- complete waste of time and duplication of the Crime and Disorder partnerships set up in 1998. Hugely time consuming and achieve very little, if anything at all.

  24. Cliff. Wokingham
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    When I read the proposals my heart sank; more local government/quangos interfering in our lives and a kind of state control over businesses putting silly duties onto them.

    Business rates are too high, as are the costs of leases and rents on retail property.
    I too looked at taking on a retail shop in Wokingham’s town centre some years ago, dealing with the council was a nightmare, the cost of the lease and the annual rent were prohibitive and the rates I thought was a telephone number rather than the amount to pay! My costs would have been about £3000 a month just to open the doors and that was before I paid myself for my efforts and with margins in retail so low, because of the likes of Tesco etc, I would have needed to have turned over something like the GDP of a small state just to have got by.

    Our town centre in Wokingham reflects what has happened to our national industries; we see more and more service industries; we have far too many cafes etc and not enough real shops but, to some extent, that just reflects how society has changed over my life time. When I was young, few women worked outside the home and even fewer could drive. My mother and my wife both took care of their respective homes whilst their husbands worked and I am sure generations of families had similar arrangements.
    The women would walk to local shops and buy provisions in order to prepare family meals; so called “Ready Meals” were unheard off.
    Now most women have to work just to help a family get by and thus, time has become a problem and hence the rise in convenience foods. Most women and men drive now and car ownership is at a high level and local councils have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs by charging a fortune to park in town centres and making it more difficult to go into town centres, often in the name of the new false religion of climate change.
    The out of town traders offer free parking and a one stop shopping facility that sells everything. This is likely the final nail in the coffin of the High Street.

    The idea of a national market day is OK, but there are problems; traders need to trade several days a week to make a living, so we actually need a return to local market days so traders can trade at several different markets.
    Market traders are up against the same things other retailers are up against; pitch costs are very high, market traders cannot undercut the big supermarkets on price, parking is difficult and people have less time to walk around the market because they’re at work.

    I hear the government announce that so many jobs have been created by this supermarket or that fast food outlet but, the number of jobs is not as important as the quality of those jobs; they tend to be dull jobs, low paid jobs and with Sunday trading and extended opening hours, anti social jobs.
    How one can support a family and be there to do family activities whilst working for next to nothing and for all hours God sends I don’t know.
    It is my opinion that the rise of the big retailers and the fast food retailers has taken our country backwards in terms of people’s socio-economic prospects and quality of life.

    I find it shocking that Wokingham town centre has no Green Grocer, no butcher, no fish monger and no real baker. It is also shocking that the people of Wokingham don’t appear to have a need for any of the aforementioned.

    The real long term concern is that once the big retailers have killed off the competition, they would then be free to push up prices to any level they see fit to.

    Reply: Those who want fresh bread buy it from the in store bakers at Waitrose/Tesco. There is a baker on Broad Street. There are regular green grocer stalls in the Market place, and visiting fishmongers. I woudl like to see the market open more often, as it adds to the fresh produce ranges considerably.

    • Cliff. Wokingham.
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      John,

      You are right, the supermarkets you mention, do indeed have a bakers and for that matter, a butcher, a delicatessen, a fish monger, green grocers, pharmacy etc etc…..I thought we were discussing why the high street has died and your point show clearly just why it’s died; Too many of the traditional shops that make up the high street, being replaced by supermarket departments.

      I agree about the market but, as mentioned in my post above, they are up against the same problems that face traditional high street traders including, parking and the buying power of the big supermarket chains.

      I also feel the market needs a better selection of stalls, selling a greater variety of products. In my view, the local markets could specialise in locally produced food and goods and this could be the niche that saves the high street but, the traders will need to move fast because some supermarkets are starting to cash in on the demand for locally produced food. There needs to be some attraction to get people to want to go to the market/high street and more specialist shops/markets may be the answer. French markets, German markets, craft markets and antiques markets along with our existing Farmer’s market may help save our town.
      At the moment, too many markets sell tat and too few sell quality food so “town centre managers” need to ask themselves the following; Why would someone pay a fortune to park in the town centre and experience all the hastle of getting there, including the threat of stealth taxes(fines) if they do not obey complex parking dictats, just to get some tat that can be purchased anywhere or buy mass produced food that is dearer than in the hastle free, free parking, out of town supermarkets?…..Once they’re honest with themselves and address that question, they they can do something to stop the slide.

      • Cliff. Wokingham.
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        John,

        I have emailed you a copy of a letter I recently sent to the Bracknell Market Manager, in response to a questionaire they issued with their free to enter Christmas hamper draw.
        Many of the issues raised in that letter apply to this thread too.

        reply: Thanks

  25. Acorn
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Off topic but I am cleaning out the computer today hence I am prompted to recommend some light reading for Redwoodians; at least the number crunchers among us.

    The WGA report for 9/10 was published recently, it attempts to report the public sector finances in the same accounting framework as a large private sector PLC would in its annual report and accounts. Interesting to see the difference between the nations debt and deficit in WGA terms rather than ONS terms. http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/whole_government_accounts200910.pdf

    You will notice the accounts have been qualified by the Auditor General because they can’t agree where the public sector stops and the private sector starts! But all parties should be congratulated for getting this far.

    Reply: Yes, it is a useful restatement of the financial position and a good reminder of the extent of liabilities.

  26. electro-kevin
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    It seems that – just at the point that we become a completely out-of-town based society (a government backed policy) – we begin to realise that fuel is a limited resource and make the motorist a pariah in order to justify raising revenues from him in the guise of fuel duty and fines.

    Clearly parking is a big issue and puts town centres at a huge disadvantage. However councils can’t manage without parking revenues and claim to keep charges low but always set the meters at odd values and do not give change. This means an 80p charge invariably means a quid.

    My suggestions ?

    We’ve gone too far to revert back to old fashioned shopping. Reduce the high street and turn empty units into much needed housing.

    Stop persecuting the motorist.

    That’s the problem. Not the demise of the high street.

    We were ‘nudged’ into car ownership by a system biased towards supermarkets.

  27. David John Wilson
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    How does your constituency home town of Wokingham stand up against these recommendations?
    A proposed development of many new shops which will create huge pressure on existing areas of the town centre where empty shops are already a problem like the eastern end of Peach Street
    A new recently opened, out of town centre, low price, supermarket which many of the poorer residents can’t use as there is no public transport.
    A town centre with no butcher, greengrocer or fishmonger.
    A market where some traders already break the rules. For example a greengrocer who frequently has no prices displayed.
    Small stores, open long hours, which only survive because they sell cheap alcohol.
    Shops that have empty living space over them while housing developments are proposed which will destroy green space both in the the town centre and surrounding the town. This will destroy the town by completing the single ribbon town of Reading/Bracknell.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      David

      The only sensible feature in the Town is that some free parking (30) mins is allowed in Rose St, just enough time to go to the Bank, Post Office etc.

      On some side roads a sensible walk away, a restricted 2 hour free parking limit applies.

      Other than that Wokingham is the same as most other market towns, you pay to park in order to spend money in the Town, and on some occassions you have to leave before you want to, because of prepaid car parking (pay as you arrive system) instead of the more sensible pay as you leave system.

      • David John Wilson
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        There are lots of small sensible things that could be done to improve the shopping experience in Wokingham.
        A cycle track all the way up Denmark Street.
        A bus stop at the eastern end of Peach Street.
        Better timed pedestrian crossings with the minimum interval between “green man” periods increased.
        Pavements widened in places like the overhangs where the road could easily be moved across by a metre or so.
        Preservation and where possible increase in the covered pavements outside shops.
        Improvement in the routes behind the shops. For example the passage between Argos and Broad Street cries out for development.
        Keeping the pavement alongside the town hall open on market days instead of allowing a greengrocer to completely block it.

  28. Joe McCaffrey
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    In a very general response I would say that it is neither desirable, nor likely to be practical, for Government to step in and decide that a less efficient method of retail (or any other industry) should be actively protected from losing market share and falling profit margins to more efficient retailers that are succeeding in free competition because consumers prefer the service they offer – on the balance of price, quality, convenience and whatever else matters to consumers. That being the case I think it was a mistake for taxpayers’ money to be spent on commisioning this review, and in responding to it no special advantages of whatever kind should be given to high-street shops. I might also say that if I were to commision a review of this kind I would have an economist carrying it out, not somebody with little economic knowledge and a very strong vested interest to encourage steps that would give an unfair advantage to high street shops.

    Individual responses to each proposal:
    1.
    A little light on detail, no mention of what they would do – would they be able to make enforcable decisions or act only to advise retailers in the area and the planning department.
    Seems to me that this team will more likely be an incompetent and ineffectual bureaucracy than ‘visionary’ and ‘strong’
    2. Again light on detail, what specific powers – and furthermore who will decide whether or not they are succesful? with what criteria? will we see BIDs in affluent areas being granted new powers on the grounds of having a successful highstreet when that has more to do with the spending power of the local people and much less to do with the department?
    3. Is it not better if landlords invest in their own property or expand into another property, perhaps on the edge of the highstreet (afterall most town centres have been built up in this manner, and furthermore central planning is almost never as succesful and responsive as free markets)
    4. An expensive and wasteful gimmick, probably one that involve taxpayers’ money going to highstreet stores – again I raise the question of the report’s impartiality given the vested interest of the author
    5. That I can support, as I would in any and every industry – barriers to entry are bad for competition and bring higher prices and lower quality to consumers by stifling innovation and allowing stores to set high prices
    6. Special interest taxbreaks are a big no-no, I would have nothing against across the board business rate reductions given that, like all taxes in this country, they are already too high but specifically favouring one kind of business is market distorting and contributes to the complexity of an already vast tax code
    7. Reply to 6 would cover this too
    8. Given that RPI is a better measure of inflation than CPI (though it too falls below the real inflation value) this is a bad idea
    9. Perhaps there would be merit for local authorities to consider doing this but it shouldn’t be imposed from the centre – and the ‘leauge table’ would be an expensive waste of time
    10. High streets should be kept accesible, attractive and safe but it shouldn’t be the suggested ‘town teams’ that do it – I personally can’t remember ever struggling to get into a highstreet or being in danger once I had entered
    11. Another of the few good suggestions – most regulations do more harm than good, creating barriers to entry, compliance costs, market distortions as well as reducing individual freedom.
    12. Yes, it is a measure that reduces the responsivity of the market as well as creating compliance costs and another barrier to entry. However I point out that greater freedom for landlords to change the use of their highstreet property comes into conflict with this idea of a managerial ‘town team’
    13. Won’t make much difference but it would be a slight improvement
    14. I agree, the planning system should allow development except where there are strong grounds not to
    15. Absolutely not. Government should not be taking measures to make out of town shops harder to build on the grounds that, some, consumers prefer them to highstreet retailers – raises the question of vested interest yet again
    16. No they shouldn’t, unless agreed between the retailers themselves – there should be no obligation for a business to help its competitors
    17. Here the lack of economic knowledge shines through – the highstreet emerges as a spontaneous order and doesn’t need specific attention, the normal operations of profit-seeking high-street stores provide all the support the high-street needs
    18. Whatever happened to liberty of contract? Any government involvement here should be on transparency, people can look after themselves and will not enter into a contract that contains very adverse terms – and if they as an indivdual choose to do so they as an individual must be responsible for any consequences
    19. Loss of income is disincentive enough, they don’t have empty properties because they want to
    20. Flies in the face of basic property rights, answer 19. applies too
    21. Again property rights, there is a very basic argument on the basis of freedom that this shouldn’t be allowed as well as the economic argument that this will cause market distortions
    22. Wrong again, same reasons
    23. Or, let them have freedom and privacy as individuals… just a thought
    24. Expensive waste of time
    25. Giving anyone method of business unfair advantage again
    26. The proposal and the reason don’t seem to match up here, how will giving a financial contribution improve the voice of the community? Also this will discourage investment and be counterproductive
    27. Basic property rights again, you can’t just let people take over someones property whilst they are searching for how best to employ it – unless with their permission, in which case no need for an initiative like this
    28. OK, if you were deadset on putting this report into place then you would be best to do that first – but time and money would be saved by rejecting this highly flawed report

  29. Stewart Knight
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with some aspects of what you say, it is in truth all pie in the sky. The simple reason these shops and the High Street are going down the pan is because shoppers, remember them? are not using the High Street, and this is because out of town shopping is far more convenient, simple as that.

    You want to load a heavy item from a shop? Just park outside. In the High Street, at best, you have to lug that item to a car park. You want to browse a range of stores? Great, they are all in one complex or site. The High Street? You have to walk about etc.

    The decline of the High Street has more to do with convenience for the shopper than any other issue. Anything else is navel gazing and tinkering at the edges of a problem that has nothing to do with traders or rates….in the real world.

    • dranyer
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      You are spot on. What is happening is entirely down to the way the consumer wishes to do their shopping. They either want a shooping “experience” and will spend a day mucking about in a huge shopping centre. Or they are sitting on their laptop at home comparing prices of goods and buying direct online. There will still be a call for mom and pop shops of course and they will adapt and survive as required, but for the bigger retailers they just have to do what their customers ask them to do. The shoppers are voting with their feet and retailers will have to react to THAT. Govbernment should leave well alone, its none of their business anyway.

      • electro-kevin
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Out of town shopping didn’t evolve – it came about through deliberate planning and dealing.

        Few of us like having to run cars. They are a huge cost and liability but society has been set up in such a way (and so much of public transport run down) that there is no choice but to have them.

        I think we’re being a bit too sentimental about the high street. I also think it’s being discussed as though it’s a real option for most people – particularly as most mums are forced to work to be able to afford a house and have little time for high street shopping.

        • APL
          Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          Stewart Knight: “.. is because shoppers, remember them? are not using the High Street, and this is because out of town shopping is far more convenient, simple as that.”

          Agreed, but do not forget the Internet. Much commerce is now done online.

          Electro Kevin: “Few of us like having to run cars.”

          Don’t know about that, a car is far, far more convenient that public transport. The ‘anti car’ policies of the local authorities – restricting car parking or applying exorbitant fees for parking, outrageous business rates, have contributed to the decline of the town centre.

          Despite the excessive taxes on car ownership, VAT, penal rates of fuel duty and road tax, the car is by far and away the more popular mode of transport.

          What we don’t like is the artificially inflated cost of running a car, many people still choose to do so despite the taxes.

          • electro-kevin
            Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            We’ve been pushed towards car ownership:

            – expensive housing in areas with work
            – more convenient/affordable shopping created out of town
            – local areas made inaccessible
            – short contract working with no fixed work address
            – retirees moving away from families to affordable areas…

            Some may say that the motorcar has liberated us.

            I say we’ve been set up by circumstances to get spanked for the taxes you mention. And now the politicians responsible blame us for being ‘car lovers’.

            Similarly youngsters are unable to find work and so end up on duff university courses (conveniently off the dole figures) and indebted to the state for the rest of their lives.

            Exquisite tax traps !

            To not be dependant on my ageing car (cars by far the most dangerous mode btw) and teeth-sucking mechanics would be bliss.

      • Stewart Knight
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

        What is happening is entirely down to the way the consumer wishes to do their shopping

        Exactly! Every report, every discussion, every thread written on the net, and John you are also guilty of this, for get the simple fact that the consumer/customer/shopper sets the agenda, not the tax man, the council or the planners.

        Would we still shop at a local butcher if they were at the end of the road? Stupid question really as the local butcher would still be at the end of the road if the consumer wanted it! All these small shops went out of business because the shoppers went elsewhere. I live in Chester and you could not get a more exclusive shopping experience in the town itself, but you go to the out of town areas, just five minutes from the centre, and they are stuffed, simply because it is convenient.

        An out of town B&Q pays more than a million in rates a year….how many quaint little shops would make that amount for the council? Don’t try and portray the big shops out of town as being almost rate and rent free, because they aren’t.

        Electro Kevin, I agree with your sentiments, but disagree with the main thrust; people love their cars and it is all part and parcel of the way the world has moved on. We couldn’t have car boot sales, the ultimate ecological shopping experience available where we recycle every and anything, without cars. BTW: With my profession I have to have a car, but I do not drive as part of my living.

        Reply: Yes, of course customer choices are the main driver of these changes. However, we also live in a very regulated world, where planning, highways and tax decisions do have an impact on the choice and type of shop available, so there is a public policy matter to discuss.

        • Stewart Knight
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          All of that is beside the point and any and all businesses, regardless of tax, planning, regulation or public policy, rely on punters coming through the doors and spending their money…nothing else is really worthy of any consideration before that one single fact of modern life and consumerism is addressed.

  30. Martin
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    The whole Portas report struck me as a waste of time and (public?) money.

    A bit of red tape bashing to impress the Conservatives, a moan about the council and some more hanging baskets.

    We all voted with our feet and cars for large developments years ago.
    Remember not all car parks are council run.

    If you want to help the town center then encourage all sorts of jobs in the town center. The employees will then spend cash at lunch time and on the way home (if the shops are still open). Encourage major town center developments. Aunty Wainwright’s shop (Last of the Summer Wine on TV) is thankfully no longer the norm.

  31. Bill
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Two notions:

    1. continue to include coffee/eating places among shops so as to make the experience social as well as commercial;

    2. try to tie shopping in with innovative design and manufacture. The success of Apple is that they now have a pipeline from back room, through factories, to customers. The interface between customers and sellers is through websites, discussion forums and in the shops themselves. This allows feedback and influences future products. We don’t just want stuff handed down to us by the fashion czars but to have a say in what is actually going to be offered.

  32. Ruth
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I am currently an internet retailer, it’s a cheap and easy way to start trading, little regulation, few asset requirements and no rent or business rates to deal with. I wouldn’t ever rule out opening a physical shop at some time in the future, because internet retailing does have its limitations, but for me the issues are the costs of rent and rates for a business where margins are not great, especially at the moment. Rents have been crazy for some years now, fuelled by the credit boom, and they have effectively meant that only high margin, high turnover businesses (such as food) can afford a shop. Add to that the business rates which are simply extortion, and it is uneconomic to have physical premises.

    The idea that councils can manage town centres is quite frankly laughable. My council is a waste of space, staffed by people who are unemployable elsewhere as we’re a bit of a backwater. They have no idea of the real world outside the council offices.

    If rents and rates come down substantially, then maybe, just maybe, you might find small businesses moving back into the high streets. As with everything these days, tax and regulation are the killers for small businesses.

  33. dranyer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    The only help retailers need is less interference in general. The internet is changing the way a lot of people are shopping anyway, you no longer need a premises or a shop window to be a success. I work partly retail and partly manufacturing and I took the decision a few years back to run the lease down in my shop and work from home. There are zero parking issues for people, I’m available all day long and at night too and frankly, I wish I had done it many years ago.

    There is also the small matter of not having to fork out vast sums of money in business rates, electricity at business prices, water, seperate refuse uplifts, shop insuranse, etc etc etc. I saved over forty grand the first year I came out of the town centre. There was a mild drop off in business turnover but I was vastly more profitable as a result.

    My high street like most others is looking scabby and run down these days, I have no doubt that it will recover in some way but the changes in retailing are natural and the way people shop is changing. They dont want the hassle of finding a parking space (and paying for it) wandering through streets while being harrassed by various charity folk and big issue sellers trying to sell their wares.

    No doubt government will find ways to extract more wedge from people like me but for the time being I’m just trying to get on with it.

  34. Sue
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I believe that parking should be free and the cost of units for smaller shops should be considerably cheaper. The smaller businesses cannot compete with the huge superstores… but that’s the idea, isn’t it? Corporatism is winning the battle.

    By the way, those busy little eurocrats have been hard at it. Makes me wonder what we need you lot for.

    You don’t fight for us, you get paid far too much, too many (which will remain nameless and do not include you) are corrupt or criminals and you don’t respect our opinions and wishes.

    WE WANT A REFERENDUM before this dictatorship goes too far!

    http://ec.europa.eu/governance/impact/planned_ia/roadmaps_2012_en.htm

    I MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY OF THIS!

    • Mark
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I thought this new immigration policy seemed a little more extreme than I was expecting from the EU:

      http://ec.europa.eu/governance/impact/planned_ia/docs/2012_env_011_invasive_alien_species_en.pdf

      by 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.

      Great link

      • uanime5
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        I believe this policy refers to plants and animals from outside the EU that are causing problems for plants and animals native to the EU. Not immigrants or creatures from other planets.

        • Mark
          Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          I believe you have no sense of humour.

  35. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    The Portas list does not mean much to me, but I guess there are some good ideas in there.

    I strongly recommend the government recognises that not all towns are the same, and if there is legislation this should not to impose solutions but enable more scope for local decisions to be made by local people to suite their circumstances. “Local” should go down well with this government.

    Incidentally, if the local planning decision is that a new superstore is not in the strategic local interest then NO should mean NO.

    Rather than governments running “pilots” I would restrict government action to making sure SME retailers are given a favourable wind and then leave it up to local entrepreneurs to pilot their own good ideas. Government could help by highlighting what works so it spreads quickly.

    In-town retailers should play to their strengths, such as offering a personal service. There is no point in competing with large multi-nationals. They should also remember that in this era of internet shopping they can offer such a service from a retail outlet in one town to potential customers everywhere.

    Small traders will have a better long-term future if they cooperate and coordinate their efforts. For instance, with late night shopping one day a week. There is also no inherent reason why small traders can not benefit from web site promotion and home delivery services if they share the costs as a cooperative. The Chamber of Commerce is an obvious way of bringing about cooperation.

  36. AlexW
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    My single universal policy remedy for this area:

    1. Cable out Redwood in.

    There, fixed.
    Thank you for your work in 2011 – stag on sir.

    ps. Discounting high business rates for charity shops also weakens high streets:- as small retailers fold charity shops proliferate in their place, reducing the overall amenity of the area. Rates need to come down when retail demand falters and councils need to adjust their budgets accordingly – hence the general attraction of localism in taxation.

  37. lola
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh gawd. What a complicated lot of old cobblers to solve a problem largely created by a complicated load of old cobblers.

    Mary, old love, markets works, the other things don’t. Think laissez – faire.

    So, set about deregulation with a vengance in all areas, parking, planning, employment, land use, etc etc

    Then it’s excess taxation and rent as privatised tax collection that needs sorting. Right now if you have a town centre business your profits are taken in rent and excessive taxation on labour and capital. So, introduce LVT to capture the privatised taxation available to landlords and levy it on the site value. That would tend to increase the location tax on out of town superstores, make their land-banking activities exepnsive and reduce tax on own centre shops. Then scrap as much employment tax as possible as well as VAT.

    In other words scrap all Portas’s bureaucratic meddling proposals, make tax on land higher and tax on wealth creation – labour and capital – lower and then let the market, i.e. us, just get on with it. If the high street continues to die then let it do so. People will work out what to do with the vacant buildings, but a lot of landlords will lose money. So what? Economies have to be dynamic to survive, subsidies and capricious bureaucrats strangle that innovation. Laissez faire works.

    • APL
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Agreed.

      Lola: ” Laissez faire works.”

      It rarely gives what a bureaucrat wants, which is why they try to frustrate ‘the market’ rather than harness its power.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Think laissez – faire, think Stock Market crash of 1929.

      • libertarian
        Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

        EXACTLY, markets go up and down only socialists and idiots think you can have something for nothing indefinately

      • APL
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

        uanime5: “Think laissez – faire, think Stock Market crash of 1929.”

        Wrong again. It like our present circumstance was caused by:

        Too much credit.
        Too much interference in the market.

        In fact the exact opposite of what is the accepted view.

      • zorro
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        Think Socialism – think 1934 Ukraine….If you want to be ridiculous, let’s go the whole hog.

        zorro

      • lola
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Nope.

        Think 1929 stock market crash – think the preceding central bank and state sponsored expansion of money and credit. Just like 2003 – 2009/10.

    • libertarian
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      Lola

      Totally agree

    • Bazman
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t work for banking, so when the social benefits are not equal to the private benefits it cannot be said to work for the greater good only for an elite and their vested interests allowing them to become to big to fail. They turned their Laissez faire economics by the back door, into communism for the rich.

  38. Barbara Stevens
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Well, John, we have a large shopping centre in Brierley Hill, the Merry Hill Centre. It does well, and offers a wide range of shops. However the local High St is decimated. Charity shops, takeaways, and cheap rubbishy shops now occupy the High St. I never go there at all, they’ve nothing to offer the shopper. The takeaways, have taken over most shops in High St’s they leave rubbish, smells, and make way for yobs come evening time.
    The Merry Hill however, offers safe shopping with security staff on hand, good free parking, but even these carparks have their problems. There have been muggings even here. When we have Christmas and Bank holidays, they put on extra staff to man the carparks now for shoppers protection, they have even had Eastern Europeans bag snatching and pick pockets, but when this happens extra security is put in place with warning signs. Its become rare now. So, for someone like me who as to walk as we don’t own a car safety is paramount. We have good bus routes and again camera operated bus shelters for our safety. The High St as a lot of catching up to do. First it must improve security and then it’s shops and get rid of the cheap takeaways, and introduce incentives for shops to open up. Like lower business rates depending on the size of the business by sq feet. To much as been given away to the cheap shops just to have business rates coming in, and we see the results. For me the shopping centre is the best bet. Of cause the council could remove the High St altogether and create private homes, but that might not suit everyone. Even markets have been discouraged which is a pity.

  39. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I suggest that for the BIS Department compulsory viewing should be Nicholas Crane’s recent television series on towns. It was very enjoyable and enlightening, and broadcast on the BBC (big cheer!).

  40. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    As to parking, where a town’s car park is owned by another local authority (e.g. by the county council) perhaps there should be a change of ownership. This would be achieved by a simple transfer of the ownership, not a purchase, so no money changes hands. After all, in the grand scheme of things it does not matter which public body owns the asset, but it is best owned and administered by those with the greatest interest. Obviously, with the change of ownership comes a change of responsibility.

    This is an area where government action would be necessary, and welcome.

  41. Barry
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Mary Portas report is wholly not fit for purpose…unless the purpose was to ignore the world as it is and will become. The report could be rather like “Red Telephone Box Troubles”. No doubt a similar set of costly non-nonsensical measures could have been identified to justify the existence of such a report. Fortunately, to my knowledge no such report exists but this one does. In this time of austerity how much are we paying for Mary Portas and her consultants to deliver such a non starter.
    My advice would be to employ someone else who does not have the concept of sitting on the beech arguing with the tide.

    • zorro
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      It is a gimmick like the report a year or more ago by Sir Philip Green into government waste in the public services. What has come about since then?

      zorro

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Zorro

        JR was going to follow this up, as I asked the same question a few months ago.

        I guess John is still awaiting a sensible answer.

  42. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    As to the uniform business rate, if this is the culprit than consideration of alternatives would be well advised to recall how it came about.

    Once upon a time local authorities could set their own business rate. Some decided to set ever higher rates for businesses, whose owners do not have a vote, and spend the money on services for residents, who do have a vote. This had such a detrimental effect on business that there were howls of protest and the government acted by removing the ability of local authorities to set their own business rate.

    Much as I favour and support localism, I have to recognise that not all local bodies act in the local interest.

  43. Willer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Why should I pay a council car parking charge to do my shopping when I can have it delivered to me at home for less?

  44. Richard
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    The internet is now the place to shop, its cheaper and delivered to your door, often the next day.
    Most of our Christmas shopping including food shopping was successfully completed this way, saving time, car mileage and parking costs.

    Planning needs speeding up and simplifying. The dead hand of council control slows down change of use to redundant warehouse and industrial space just as much as high street retail space and legthens the time premises remain empty and unused.

    Parking restrictions and cost of parking is the other major cause of empty high streets and with these now being applied in the evening many people I know are not going into high streets for evening meals, cinema and theatre trips but travelling to where there is free and easy parking.
    I was not impressed with the Portas report which I found to be a combination of the blindingly obvious and an misguided call for even more state interference.

  45. A.Sedgwick
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Most of this review is unworkable and unrealistic – similar to DC’s Big Society – whatever happened to that?

    Fifty years of market forces have produced the current situation. The internet is the preferred choice of young and new retailers – who wants all the hassle and risk of a small shop 24/7. The supermarkets, shopping malls and the internet offer what most of us want. Similarly city and big town centres have developed and moved forward, whilst the shops in the old suburban shopping roads and parades are struggling and need to be redeveloped into homes and/or offices.

    Fashionable market towns and villages can and are offering niche retail options with the opportunity of attracting non locals. Again if someone wants a retail outlet combined with an internet business, better for it to be located in such an environment.

    This for me is another example of the let’s have a review culture, which ironically Cameron used to slate Brown for whilst being as big a culprit himself.

  46. sm
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Disposable income shrinks..spending shrinks? If we are to rebalance our bubble economy we should expect a relative contraction in retail, finance and property. Wow all the benefits of the EU, unlimited and publicly subsidized immigration, QE without liquidations! and falling labour costs why oh why is demand falling.

    Interest rates far below normal levels have slowed the indebted market’s adjustment via liquidations. The landlords have not been forced to accept lower values and rents. .

    Should we not consider restricting taxes to a % of income or margin, based on the industry norms, with perhaps transitory exceptions for centres which have lost a local service.By the sounds of it local taxes make it difficult for a small retailer to get past its fixed costs. Why is it costs always ratchet up with no change impacting on the taxing/rentier sector.

    Also it depends on what you want and where you are and transport issues.
    Some centres have central parking for a reduced fee/refundable with a token. Not really seen this applied to public transport users, it can be just as expensive to use as parking. Why is public transport relatively so expensive to minimum wages?

    From an urban city perspective some congested urban areas can be too much hassle(transport,time etc) and on balance and at times you sometimes would rather not bother. Most large private centres also have private security, controlled enviroments and are clean,rules are enforced.Perhaps this should be handed over to the local business group.

  47. Damien
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    In reply to Para 3 ‘High Rents’

    It is well established law that the courts will not grant relief to a commercial tenant who may wish to benefit from a change of use and finds he is unable to do so because the freeholder is unwilling to release him from restrictive covenants. I agree with this however it can create a perverse outcome whereby the freeholder benefits by not agreeing to allow any changes to the lease terms. The leaseholder either has to continue paying rent and rates on an empty property or goes into bankruptcy. There is little or no incentive for the freeholder to consider relaxing the restrictive change of use clauses (even though legislation allows permitted rights on certain changes these cannot override contract law between the parties). Indeed the freeholder can benefit if the lease reverts back to him .

    It is suggested that we should simply allow the market to adjust and surely all parties will come to their senses. Not so. Community cohesion and amenity is lost or blighted and the solutions being put forward are all lacking if they do no incentivise the freeholders of empty properties work constructively to address restrictive clauses and covenants that would allow leaseholders and others to find new uses for these properties.

    I am loath to advocate new taxes but the time has now come to suggest that local authorities be allowed to introduce a direct tax on the freeholder of an empty property where the leaseholder has been successful in applying to the local authority for a change of use but is prevented from proceeding because the freeholder will not allow it under the terms of an existing lease.

    • Damien
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Addendum

      In researching my last paragraph I came across this quote in the Law Gazette on commercial leases “It is fairly common to find a covenant by the tenant not to make or implement any planning application without the landlord’s consent and to comply with the planning legislation.
      However, the landlord should also guard against the risk of the tenant making some lawful change of use for which no planning permission is required, as by moving between classes in the Use Classes Order as permitted by the General Development Order.”

      In the light of this I can only suggest that the existing planning law be amended to provide that where a lease contains a term of upward only rent reviews and where the freeholder withholds his permission for the leaseholder to have a lawful change of use then the leaseholder be discharged from his obligation to pay rates on the empty property and that a charge is levied on the freeholder who so chooses not to allow change of use.

      There is also a public interest aspect to all of the above. I understand that the bailed out banks are finding that many of the branch leases contained these restrictive clause and this impairment is being reflected in a diminished valuation of these properties resulting in a substantial loss for the taxpayer.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

        If the lease stipulates that the freeholder’s consent is required for amending the lease then the freeholder is acting within their rights and should not be penalised because of it.

        The lesson here is to make the business the leaseholder, so that when the business ceases to exist the lease is frustrated (terminated).

        To resolve the banks dilemma they could split into two banks; one bank would have the branches they want to keep, the other banks has the branches they wish to sell. The latter bank can then cease to exist, resulting in the leases being frustrated and the property returning to the freeholder. Though this will result in a net loss to the taxpayer the bank will no longer need to pay for branches it no longer needs.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Won’t your proposals just lead to leaseholders trying to make unsuitable changes to their lease as a way of ending their lease early? It could also result in a freeholder suffering due to a bad leaseholder.

      Finally as the freeholder is the owner of the land shouldn’t they have the right to restrict certain activities which may reduce the value of this land or make it more difficult to find another leaseholder? For example if a store is converted into a pub it may be difficult to find another leaseholds who wants a pub or is willing to convert it back to a store.

  48. Faustiesblog
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Parking is certainly a factor – both lack of it, and its cost.

    Out of town centres generally offer free parking, unhassled by having to watch the clock and replenish some voracious parking meter.

    Instead of councils running town centre parking lots, how about getting local business to buy them? This would:

    * Provide councils with up-front cash on sale of parking areas or provide council with leasing fees. I prefer the former, for obvious reasons.
    * Ensure that, over time, the parking fee scale will be set by the local business – such that when parking charges are too high, they’ll be able to detect an immediate impact on their sales.
    * Allow parking charges to become dynamic – responding quickly to changing circumstances.

    Councils could always pay for a reserved number of places for the disabled, for library access and other free services.

    Surely, business rates are a major expenditure for any high street shop. How justified are these rates when much of the proceeds goes to central government? I would have thought that the less central control there is, the more businesses would be inclined to vote with their £s and migrate to centres where business rates are low. Centralisation skews this dynamic.

  49. dranyer
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Working from home I also had far less contact with local government bureacrats such as planners with their signage rules (applicable only to small traders of course) building regs etc. I also have less chance of my premises being vandalised by drunken morons.

    Its all good. I have zero interest in ever returning to trade from the high street. If the high street continues to decline then thats because the customer decided that they wanted it to die. As has been said already, laissez faire.

    • figurewizard
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Now yours is what I call a well informed and accurate post.

    • Bob
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      “the customer decided that they wanted it to die”

      Government interference and tax is what decided the fate of traditional high street shopping, the customers just go where the costs are lowest. A lot of people enjoy browsing along their high street and meeting their friends for a coffee and a chat, but it’s becoming an expensive day out afforded increasingly only by the better off, while hoi polloi head off with a loyalty card and a pocket full of discount vouchers to the nearest hypermarket with free parking and prices that can only be achieved with massive buying power (ask any farmer what that means to food quality). The next step will be to crush the independent farmers and replace them with gigantic factory farms.

      When business rate revenue from independent high street shops drop off enough, don’t be surprised if government turn to internet traders looking for something to replace it with. An internet traders licence perhaps?
      Just like the demise of the British pub, the demise of the high street means people will turn increasingly to the hypermarkets and the internet, which means more opportunities for Big Brother to monitor and control the populace.

  50. Javelin
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Councils have to accept High streets are no longer the cash cows they once were. Mary is right to put taxation as the number one issue.

  51. figurewizard
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    In the case of the larger multiple retailers the damage is largely self inflicted. They have traditionally ridden out slowdowns in the economy by increasing margins. One example is in stationery products where a supermarket or major non food retailer such as (one named-ed) will add 110% or more to a cost price before adding VAT to set the retail price.

    This addiction to high margins and reliance on increasing them to maintain revenues and cash flow in troubled times has resulted in poor value and less choice, something that discount stores such as Poundland on the one hand and Internet entrepreneurs on the other are now successfully exploiting. The clever high street and out of town retailers will recognise this and restructure their operational and expenditure priorities accordingly, the rest will go down. As ever the market will ultimately sort things out.

  52. libertarian
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    As the owner of two High Street businesses and contemplating a 3rd all in different towns these are my thoughts.

    I like very little of Portas’s planning being ,as always, top down, centrally imposed nannying “ideas”. We already have street markets and a town centre team. Most of the market stalls are French, Belgian and Dutch traders. The town centre team is joke.

    What is happening is that the public are begining to reject the major chain, supermarket approach. In my small thriving town we have far more individual one off shops which encourage browsers, shoppers and tourists. Therefore we need to incentivise small retail startups rather than charity shops and betting shops/pound stores
    What we need are:

    Vastly lower business rates
    My exorbitant rates provide me virtually nothing in return, having to pay extra on top to have my bins emptied and to have to clear the filth deposited by the “night time economy” so beloved by our council.

    To have some actual policing, my premises windows have been broken 5 times in last 18 months, plus 2 full burglaries.

    Car/ people friendly

    I am unbelievably now charged business rates on my staff car parking slots which are on land owned by me.

    We need better car access and free parking in town centres

    Planning

    It must be easier to obtain change of use, we also need to encourage a mixed high street in terms of housing, retail and office space.

    Mostly however what is required is innovative one off retailers, food outlets and other amenities. The internet and digital technology has drastically changed things AWAY from big retailers/chains. We need to stop panicking and over reacting. Really the best answer is for politicians and their consultants to keep out of the way. Once small businesses realise that they can compete on the High Street by offering a personalised and individual service they will come back. We just need local councils to get out of the way.

    We are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in ALL areas of economics, business and politics away from the big one size fits all mass produced 20th century way of super government, super national businesses, supermakets, superbanks, mass trade unions and political parties.

    Local newspapers are ALL in trouble, i saw some politicians trying to come up with some stupid plan to try to save them, why? The reason that OLD style local papers are dying is they no longer suit the purpose. As with all progress and change the old has to die off before the new can replace it. Councils must be far more flexible, new types of business will spring up on our High streets as long as the councils allow access to them

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Agreed.

  53. Cathleen Mainds
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    28 recommendations! Bureaucratic heaven – and a recipe for further stultification.

    One can’t halt change and evolution – Canute knew that! But we can remove constraints and regulations which force change into unwanted directions.

    Everyone finds a dieing town centre depressing.

    Let’s encourage landlords and councils to be less greedy. £1,000 a week rent plus several £’ooos a year in rates is an impossible amount for a local greengrocer, for example, to generate, no matter how popular the shop.

    Many councils are both landlord and rate setter. They could take the lead, – and should, as a public service to all their local residents.

    Further to that, all a council needs to do is to provide effiicently the services they charge all of us to provide – street cleaning, refuse collection, prompt pavement repair, maintenance of public trees and gardens.

    Then just let peole’s entrepreneurship flourish.

  54. forthurst
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    The Uniform Business Rate was introduced because too many local authorities had taken the democratic decision to kill off their local businesses with excessive rates. It is now obvious that the UBR has itself become a killer application, treating local authorities as tax collectors for central government. Local authorities have responded by deprecating local businesses and shoppers in favour of getting into bed with property developers in out of town shopping centres where part of their income cannot be syphoned off by the government.

    Saving the high street as an act of Ludditism would be wasteful and ultimately futile. The first question to ask is whether the high street is as conceptually obsolete as a pit village. As we get so many things wrong in this country, perhaps we should look abroad for comparators. Can they offer something which shoppers in the internet age value and which can be supplied economically by the market if government and the rentier class would stop being so greedy?

    Even apparently healthy high streets are full of chain stores selling imported tat with stratospheric markups, offering shoppers a very poor deal both in terms of value for money and choice, and that is all that is offered in most out of town and other purpose built precincts. When such retailers purport to reside in tax havens, the loss to the economy is considerable.

    When considering the health of local retailers, consideration should also be given to local producers who frequently cannot initially match the volumes demanded of national retailers.

    The government spends too much of our money and too much investment has been put into property. The City syphons off too much of our wealth and talent. There is, consequently an economic imbalance which has left parts of the country and areas of the economy relatively impoverished. These are economic issues which cannot be solved by employing yet more functionaries.

    The local taxation system needs to be reformed again so that local businesses are not inhibited from forming and staying solvent as a result of unrealistic demands. Government should only try to tax profits and should not allow such to leave the country through tax loopholes.

  55. BobE
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    You need to add ‘Nip access’
    There is no way to ‘Nip’ into town to buy a pint of milk. It always has to be a expedition.
    In Reading the DIY shop at the end of the town closed after double yellow lines were painted accross every roadway. Not even a short stay bay. That is how to kill a shop.
    You need free parking.

    • Mark
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Try a petrol station…

  56. Jon
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Are we seeing towns starting to be build around out of town centres?

    I would love it if my town just had stalls selling fresh local veg and meat. The rates are too expansive so the council gets £0 for that and we know about parking costs.

    The market will manifest itself somewhere and perhaps in a place where the council earns £0 from.

  57. Barry
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Why do we assume that we need shopping centres (or at least the current size and number)? For example, there were a large numbers shipping docks to service our trade. Many were no longer required and converted to met future and enduring needs (container ports) and other uses including housing. By way of a hint to Portas (or someone else with some vision) we continue to have a chronic housing shortage whilst maintaining empty and expensive shopping centres. A different and more profitable use of shopping centre assets will assist local authorities to meet their mandatory service deliveries which are facing financial difficulties.

    I am concerned that this report failed to look at the trends in shopping to at least extrapolate the likely future. Had it done so it could have provided realistic options for the future use of shopping centres rather than attempting to introduce unworkable measures to re-establish and maintain some past piece of history.

    I am left wondering if this report has been produced to provide illusory solutions to satisfy some political agenda or simply a poor piece of work. In either case, I would recommend an exposure of the costs of this report to determine if there has been a sizeable waste of public expenditure. More importantly, this report has wasted time in providing real options for shopping centres futures. This delay will inevitably result in the tax payer having to pay for the impact of empty town centres rather than funding more useful outcomes..

  58. James Reade
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    As a man of the market, I’m surprised you’re so in favour of such regulation and manipulation of the market. Specifically, why do you favour the continued subsidisation of road users? Free parking? Why shouldn’t people wishing to park pay market rates for this? City centre space is higher in demand and lower in supply – it should cost more, and probably more than it does currently. Free parking certainly does not reflect the true market value of renting land for the purpose of parking.

    If consumers, as you admit, want to shop online and out of town, why don’t we just let them do it, and leave the city centre areas to adapt? If there are regulations, then adding different ones as you propose won’t help, just getting rid of them, as you also suggest, is the right way to go, and let city centres thrive or die on their own…?

    Reply: I am talking about Council car parks which we the taxpayer have already bought with our taxes

    • Mark
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      My local council charges at least £8/day for a parking space. That’s an income of say £2,000 p.a. for 120 sq ft – or the equivalent of nearly £1,400 pcm for a 1000 sq ft 3 bed semi with a free parking space on its own land.

      The marginal cost of motoring in a relatively fuel inefficient vehicle in stop start town driving is 20p/mile. The parking charge gives a 20 mile roaming radius at zero incremental cost as an alternative. Individual shoppers driving around to out of town locations increase total distribution cost and fuel consumption and congestion.

      As an economist, you might at least have done the maths.

  59. uanime5
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    One of the disadvantages high street shops have are that their start-up costs are much higher than online shops; so many new businesses are avoiding the high street, and selling on Amazon or eBay instead. Another disadvantage is that as online shops have lower overheads they can charge less for the same goods. This is why many high street electronic, book, and music stores are having trouble competing with online shops. Unfortunately there’s very little that can be done about this.

    Regarding the Mary Portas review I’d recommend allowing free parking for the first 1 or 2 hours to encourage people to use high street stores more frequently.

    • libertarian
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree with both your comments

      Although its not just start up costs, the ongoing running costs are also much higher for bricks and mortar businesses. I own both types and my internet based businesses are far more profitable than my bricks and mortar ones.

  60. john w
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    John,a quick word about the internet.I bought the lap top i am using on line from argos.It arrived at my door in 1hour ,they said it would be two.It cost a bit extra for the delivery but no more than fuel and parking.With service like that the shops are doomed.

  61. David in Kent
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Your commenters have already made most of the points I would wish to make so I won’t bore you with repatition.
    200 years ago the centre of Canterbury was largely residential, though some of those residents did run a business from their homes. Many retired people would again like to live in the town centre, patronising restaurants, pubs and specialist shops.
    That is a better way forward than ultimately futile resistance to change.

    • libertarian
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes David but currently Canterbury is thriving as a retail centre especially with the development of the Whitefriars shopping mall as a part of the High Street area.

      Canterbury is a very unique place with over 7 million visitors per year, 3 Universities with more than 30,000 students and a military barracks. Its also the number one digital city in the UK and has a thriving start up high technology business community and also a lean start up incubator due to open shortly. Having said that there are also new residential units being built in the High St and environs.

  62. peter
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    What about adding some sort of tie for big outer town superstores into the process of awarding planning consent.

    If they build store x out of town and the town centre is in need of filling, store x has to occupy a building on the high street with store y (a tesco express style store) as a condition, so they give a stimulant to the town centre.

    Clearly as has been pointed out, the issue of rates and parking charges put many off, as does the fact that the police are often too busy shifting paper to have a visible presence in many town centres often creating no go areas for many due to our finest members of society frequenting the shadows drinking bottles of cider.

    You can then go back to councils who should be well aware of their obligations to ensure the environment is well kept rather than winning about ‘cuts’

  63. Frances Matta
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    The constituency here is “Pukey and St. Awful”. LibDem.
    Everyone shops in Truro. Conservative.
    The council is “Unitary” but everything seems to be run by SERCO these days.
    How did that come to pass?

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      SERCO run lots of Government projects, they win contracts by negotiation and tendering for projects.

      Should such contracts be put out in the first place is open to question, but the bigger one is: how can they provide a service which has less cost, but makes a profit, when local authorities/government say they cannot even provide the service (with no requirement for profit at all) for that same cost.

      Reason: attitude, management skill, and knowledge.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Serco even run private prisons, prisoner transport (court to prison), eectronic tagging schemes, and I believe, some safety camera (speed camera) operations.

  64. Monty
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    The high street shops are still stuck in the rut of opening their doors at 9 am, and closing at 5 or 5:30. In other words, only open for business when the vast majority of the public are at work. It would make far more sense to shift that to 11 till 7:30, but the retailers would have to do it collectively.

    The other killer is parking restrictions and charges. It is no use putting up barriers to prospective customers.

    But even if this is overcome, the out of town developments will always have some advantages, like shopping carts so customers can wheel their flatpack furniture and tins of paint straight to the car. I suspect we still have a significant oversupply of retail space, and it is leading to mini-soweto zones where customers fear to tread.

    Instead of bleating about this, it might be better to re-zone our town centres, and not by salami slicing but by radical surgery. I just don’t trust councils to do it…..

  65. Monty
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Another aspect is the reduction in the number of independant petrol filling stations. If you have to go to the out of town retail park or supermarket to get your petrol, you are probably going to do your other shopping there too. So that draws customers away from the high street.

  66. BobE
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    John, Off topic but it needs to be said.
    On the radio today a Green party politician was suggesting that we will need to pay £4,000 plus a year to continue to use coal and gas power stations. This, he said, was because we have to import both coal and gas.
    The UK is sitting on at least 400 years of its own coal. We could run clean coal generation for hundreds of years, using our own coal. Could you be kind enough to pass on this fact please.
    Also for every windmill you build you must provide a fuel powered replacement for when the wind does not blow.
    BobE

    Reply: I have been pressing for some time for a more sensible cheaper energy policy. Mr Huhne does not agree.

    • Robert Christopher
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      A more sensible and knowledgeable Energy Minister might be the answer!

  67. Bazman
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Is parking free at supermarkets like Tesco and Asda?

  68. Kenneth
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    1. Prune regulations and taxes that stifle retailers and others in the supply chain

    2. Put these 2 problems together:

    (a) too much retail capacity in town

    +

    (b) not enough car park capacity

    =

    retailers collectively (or council) buying up empty shops and turning them into car park space.

    This would ultimately lead to a redesign of town centres where more cars are more elegantly accommodated in the extra space.

    3. Local delivery service

    • Bazman
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Knocking shops down and turning them into car parks is a retarded way of thinking. You would not need as many car parking spaces as their would be less shops. Usual slash and burn nonsense from someone who believes that they are outside the state.

  69. Bazman
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Most of my house is decked out with local shops, curtains, white goods and electronics etc. Most people need to look again at their locals shops. They did not get this far without being competitive.

  70. Robert Christopher
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Ahhhhhhhhh! Words fail me!

    My admiration goes to all those who have managed to reply in such a detailed, sensible and dignified manner, (unlike me!)

    Thanks also to John for his ‘boiled down summary’ and the warning that there were 28 points in the policy recomendations; not a good sign.

    It’s more like: ‘A bureaucratic review into the future of our high streets’ from the Bruin era!

    1) Many French towns have (expensive to build) multi-story car parks hidden under their central square with reasonable parking charges; I expect the high cost will make these unaffordable now.
    2) If car owners cannot park in town centres how do you get large or heavy purchases back home?

  71. Teresa Foot
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    The popularity of one-stop shopping is in part a consequence of the new norm for women to work full-time while child-rearing. Only retired people nowadays have time to do local shopping outings, buying food on a daily basis. When I go to the supermarket I spend £200 or more and it takes less than an hour to feed a family for two weeks. Quick and easy. The local shops can’t compete. Fact.

  72. Bob
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    What is not needed is government meddling.
    Just stop interfering and slash business rates. The market will do the rest.

    This advice is free. How much was Mary paid??

  73. WALTER MACQUEEN
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Many of the comments so far seem to have a glimmer of relevance to the problem of “In Town Shopping” but the most important feature of any scheme in the UK with our generally unpleasant weather is the undercover, protected Mall together with reasonably priced parking whether it be “in Town” or “Out of Town” visiting. A business visit to the USA 30 years ago convinced me that schemes where shops large and small are gathered together under one large air conditioned space is the preferred venue. There are now many such sites in the UK and it is clear that this is the ONLY way towns are going to be able to compete.
    So buy up all the in town space, control the greedy town councils,[to provide good parking and access], and build only “MALLS” which must including eateries and entertainment facilities.

    • Mark
      Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      The part of the UK that first built modern malls was Northern Ireland – and the reason was that it made for simpler security arrangements if shoppers could be checked just once with a patdown on entering the mall, and open air parking lots made car bombing a less effective form of attack. Many town centres were control zones, with no parking permitted – a feature that also promoted the development of petrol station shops as general convenience stores. There may be some interesting lessons to learn from how things have changed there in more recent times.

  74. Bazman
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Why hold back the future and why7 should the taxpayer subsidise private business with tax and rate concessions? Bulldoze the town centres and sell of the land cheaply to property developers and supermarket chains. Any place where a ‘specialist’ shop is required will have one if it is economically viable. The small producers could sell through the large supermarkets that everyone uses if they priced their products accordingly instead of ripping of their customers with their laughable prices for ‘premium’ products such as some tough free range chicken sold by a TV chef bleating about ‘chickens rights’. I ask you what’s next? I’ll tell you what’s next. Old chickens homes. The large super markets would allow them to sell more and lower costs. As soon as some second rate convenience store is turned into a mini supermarket they do a roaring trade and put many of the local shops out of business for being expensive and lame. Failing this allow any empty property to become a restaurant or takeaway. You never see them closing down. They just turn into another type of takeaway when they fail.

  75. Tony Baverstock
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood

    Most of the responses above deal with the specific proposals in the report. However, your request was how you should respond. Can I suggest 2 different responses 1. Reflecting your role as a member of the House of Commons, and 2. As a constituency MP.

    As a member of the House of Commons.
    This report deals with the regeneration of high street shopping an issue which will vary in importance for different people and I am sure from town to town. With the clear intention of this government to role back the involvement to central Government in local matters, and in the spirit of “localism”. I do not feel it is the role of Government to be directly involved in a matter such as this with is primarily a local matter. I recommend the report to all local authorities and if there are matters which they wish to address and require primary legislate can I suggest they contact the relevant department of sate and there local MP who will attempt to get relevant legislation enacted.

    As a constituency MP.
    Based on the replies so far you may want to make specific comments about Wokingham to your local council but since I do not know the area I will leave that to you.

    If we are really going to revitalise democracy in the UK we need to return power to the local level which means making local politicians much more dependant on the local economy. The issue with local high streets maybe directly about local parking charges and high business rates but these are just the direct impact of the root cause. Which is a system of local Government financing which patches over the shortfalls in performance of individual local authorities.

    Business rates used to be set locally. But the system was heavily distorted and if business rates fell central Government grants covered the shortfall. Many council’s, particularly on the left, saw this as an opportunity to push up rates knowing any effect on business activity would be mitigated by increased Government grants. As a result Government took over setting business rates.

    If we are to solve these problems we need to address this root cause by creating a system of local Government financing which rewards success. Unfortunately local income taxes or sales taxes are not going to work because of complexity and the EU (VAT cannot be replaced). At least we should move towards a grant system which is the same per head across the whole of the UK.

    Reply Thank you. I am doing a parallel exercise for Wokingham through the local paper, and will pass on the findings to Councillors and local shop keepers.

  76. P R Pennington Legh
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Save the High Street:-

    1. Level the ‘ playing field’. e.g Make it a condition of approving planning for an out of town supermarket the opening (or sponsorship) of in-town shops (number determined by street lengths), stalls and markets (rather than roads, etc).
    2. Inprove access. e.g. Limit pedestrinisation to allow one-way access (and bus route) and free short term parking.
    3. Restore reason to use High Street. e.g Require or Council sponsor High Street post office with extended role (i.e www. purchases collection point, all licences, banking, savings, local information, bil payments, internet cafe, etc). Sponsor arts and crafts, DIY, self help, youth employment/skills and “Big Society” activities in vacant premises.
    4. Encourage new independents . e.g Grant 2 year business rates holiday for start-ups
    5. Enliven social hub. e.g Incentivise reoccupying flats above shops -replacing storage, rest areas, etc.
    6. Rebalance High Streets. e.g by limiting (by change of use consent) overly predominant “services” like estate agents; poundlands; bank, coffee and chains, -even charity shops.
    7. Reclaim High Streets at night
    8. Abandon UBR. Graduate business rates in favour of retail outlets that fit the desired paradigm of what High Streets should contain,
    9. Embrace the internet. e.g by establishing collection hubs -which can also be used as a single distribution point for High Street outlets.
    10. Extend retail scope; e.g by removing restrictions

  77. English Pensioner
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    All the shops which sold lower priced items have gone, the bakers, the ironmongers. card shop, etc. Loafs may have been a little dearer at the baker than the supermarket, but they were far better, and one could pop-in on the way to or from the supermarket. But then came the double yellow lines and parking costs which put them out of business. A few pence extra for a loaf is OK, but £1 plus is not! Now we have yet another charity shop instead, and the supermarket gets even more business.

  78. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Reading the preceding 130-odd comments it is apparent there is a wide variety of experience and advice. This suggest that one thing the government must NOT do is adopt a prescriptive approach. Their role should be one of enabler, leaving private initiative, market forces and local authority planning to work things through.

    A consequential benefit will be that towns will continue to evolve with their own character, which will be to their benefit and that of the nation as a whole.

    One thing the government might usefully do through their portal is to provide easy access information about towns provided by the towns themselves. Thus a town, and its population, looking for ideas can see what is and is not working.

  79. lojolondon
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Remember, Labour actively supported the big chains, as they believed, for the first 12 years, that they ‘brought employment’, and ‘reduced prices’ (which helped with the scam that is the official inflation measure). So plans were often pushed through for political reasons, and the big 4 grew not organically but with Government aid.

    Secondly, 28 recommendations is 25 too many, MPortas needs to focus or none will be implemented.

  80. TimC
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Parking is such sweet sorrow. Or to put it another way-its the parking stupid. Went up to the post this morning on wet and windy day and cruised around to find a parking spot so I could go to the post office. Drove past an empty car park. I was not willing to pay 60p for three minutes parking, I preferred to walk a hundred yards extra in the wind and rain. As you say-Time limits and free parking the best way of helping the High Street.

  81. Catherine in Athens
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    There is a lot of complaining in today’s Daily Mail about non-delivery of parcels by Royal Mail and other companies. Why not add collection points to the mobile phone shops, charity shops and latte joints in our town centres? Redundant shops could be used as poste restante points for all the commuters who resent having to trek out to, say, the sorting office at the weekend, but might not mind getting an e-mail to alert them that their parcel has arrived safely and is collectable on production of bank-standard ID from their nearest town-centre collection point at a time convenient to them. Who knows, they might even be tempted to stay in the town centre and buy something else!

  82. Monty
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    A year or so ago, some elderly friends went shopping in a park-and-ride zone. They bought two litre tins of emulsion paint, and a few rolls of wallpaper, plus a few sundries in a carrier bag. Walked to the bus stop. no problem. Waited at most five minutes for the shuttle bus to take them back to the car park.
    Well the driver wouldn’t let them on the bus with their shopping, citing “hazardous chemicals”. They couldn’t just leave their stuff at the bus stop, but neither could one of them travel to the car park and drive the car to the pick-up point- buses taxis and delivery vehicles only on that route. They were literally stymied until a helpful local woman called a taxi to take them and their shopping back to their car.
    They have vowed never to use such a scheme again.

  83. Frances Matta
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    When Alan Judson isn’t pitching for SERCO , is he a dog warden or something equally useful?

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 6, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Frances

      The name is Jutson and I do not work, or have any share holdings in Serco.

      Just making the point that they just seem to run a huge number of State contracts. Either they are very good, very competitive, do not have a lot of competition, or the tendering process works to their advantage somehow.

      The more pertinent question is perhaps, why can a private organisation provide a service and make a profit, when the state sector cannot run the same services at the same cost without a deficit.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 6, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Francis

        No not a dog warden, just someone who has now retired, who ran their own Design and Build construction Company for 30 years.

        As for doing something useful.
        I have worked for a local voluntary charitable organision (Lions Club) for the past 20 years, where I have paid all of my own expenses, pay a yearly subscription fee to be a member, and have given my time for free.

        Does this count ?.

  84. Alan_R
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Some towns have a regular market perhaps one day a week, others have farmers’ markets on a regular basis. Surely where large shops become vacant, pop-up markets should be encouraged, where local food producers or craft producers could rent space on a regular or “as required basis”. To encourage landlords to experiment, business rate relief would probably be necessary.

    Also, to overcome the blight of tatty close down shops, local authorities should encourage schools and local organisations to prepare displays (perhaps to a defined format) that could be displayed in empty shop windows. Again, some incentive would have to be provided to landlords.

    These things would have to be piloted to find a successful model. They would not solve the major problems facing run-down high streets, but might help in a small way, perhaps encouraging community spirit.

  85. Adam Collyer
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Those 28 solutions sound like the kind of things you would expect from the public sector.

    Maybe the State should just accept that moulding our towns in the image they want is not part of their job?

    If our town centres are “declining”, then so what???

  86. Dr Bernard JUBY
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow! I nearly wore my finger out getting to the end of this thread!
    Town centres are dying because of difficulty in parking (casual, passers-by in cars just can’t stop to nip in and buy something en route. Large, areas for out of town shops mean parking is not a problem for them. Rates are another bug-bear where Zoning is a killer, getting higher depending on the depth of the shop. This weights the scales heavily against the smaller shops in favour of the large, deep outlets.
    It was once said in the USA that this “doughnut effect” with the central hole occuring because of out-of-town shopping took 14 years to fill up with smaller, specialised shops causing insecurity and vandalism in the interim. You can see it happening here.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page