A report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has found that dated policies and an unfair tax regime must be reformed to create an environment that will allow high streets and town centres to flourish in the future.
Stockport, like town centres and High Streets throughout the UK, is a town that recognises it needs to adopt a new strategy in order to survive and thrive. A £1bn programme of investment is currently underway that has seen the development of a new leisure facility and family food offering at Redrock; a new gateway and business district at Stockport Exchange; improved access via the Town Centre Access Plan; funding to regenerate the historic Underbanks area of Stockport; a new Metrolink-ready transport interchange and a focus on town centre living, redeveloping brownfield sites and lessening the impact on Stockport’s greenbelt.
Stockport’s Market Place has seen the opening of new bars and the regeneration of the Produce Hall will create a new social eating and leisure facility, building new communities in the town centre.
The Committee’s report sets out a bold vision for the high street based on locally led strategies, developed with local communities and businesses at the centre, and reflective of evolving commercial and economic patterns. The Committee calls on the Government to initiate reform in key planning and taxation areas, including the options of an online sales tax and reforms to business rates, to allow high streets to adapt to changing demand, and compete with online retailers such as Amazon on a level playing field.
The Committee finds that:
- High streets and town centres must adapt, transform and find a new focus in order to survive
- Business rates are stacking the odds against high street retailers. The Government must initiate reforms to provide meaningful relief to high street retailers, including giving consideration to proposals for an online sales tax to level the playing field
- Achieving large-scale structural change will require intervention led by the local authority, in collaboration with business and local communities, backed by funding and new powers from central government
- Local Plans are a key element of this. They must consider green space, leisure, arts and culture, health and social care services to create space that is the “intersection of human life and activity”
- Retailers must accept the need to adapt and do more to offer what online cannot, focusing more on personal interactions and convenience
- Landlords need to recognise the retail property market has changed and be more receptive to negotiating lease terms with retailers in financial difficulty – The Government should consider providing a conciliation service to facilitate negotiations between the parties.
Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP commented:
In recent years, high streets and town centres have faced extremely challenging times. We have seen the collapse of a number of well-known, national high street chains, with many more undergoing restructuring or being bought out. The growth of online shopping has profoundly changed retail in the UK, and the knock-on impact on high streets has been stark.
It is likely that the heyday of the high street primarily as a retail hub is at an end. However, this need not be its death knell. Local authorities must get to grips with the fact that their town centres need to change; they need to innovate, setting out a long-term strategy for renewal, reconfiguring the town centre and finding new ways of using buildings and encouraging new independent retailers.
Dated planning policy must be reformed to reflect the needs of modern high streets and town centres. Business rates must be made fair. They are currently stacking the odds against businesses with a high street presence and this must end. Tax reforms are needed to level the playing field between online and high street retailers, and we urge the Government to investigate all the options in this area, including an Online Sales Tax.
We must begin a period of renewal and regeneration, establishing high streets as focal points of our communities comprising green space and health, education and leisure services, as well as a core of retail. At a local and national level, government must create a framework that allows high streets and town centres to thrive. Local authorities must have the foresight to develop evolving strategies tailored to the needs of their local communities and drive the large-scale transformation needed. Central government must give them the powers, and back them financially, to allow them to put this into practice.