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High street crisis? what crisis? says Andrew Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick & Co

wantspacegotspace.co.uk - High street crisis? what crisis? says Andrew Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick & CoMuch has been made of the decline of our town centres, currently typified by rows of empty shops interspersed by charity shops, pawnbrokers and pound shops, thanks to the numerous, high profile retailer causalities during this long recession.  Some blame the growth of internet shopping for the decline and whilst this is factor, no matter how good internet shopping performs, in my view, it cannot match the social interaction of real shopping, the instant buy and take home experience, or impulse purchase, or the chance to have the “touchy feely” opportunity to try products before you buy.  A snap shot of a typical high street over the glorious bank holiday weekend showed plenty of footfall, but obviously, with disposable incomes squeezed by this long recession, consumer spending is inevitably down, which means retailers’ income is down.  Unfortunately, costs are not down, particularly property costs, with business rates a particular culprit, with the rates burden now often higher than post recessionary rental levels.  Unfortunately, with the 2015 Rating Revaluation postponed to 2017, there is little sign of any political appetite for change.  Perhaps, unsurprising with a government desperate for cash and property still viewed as an easy tax target! 

At a recent debate, one speaker suggested taxing  out of town retail developments to fund town centre regeneration.  That sounds like a recipe for killing off another sector in the hope that throwing money at empty retail space in the town centre will be a solution, but what can you convert empty shops into?  A quick look around any town centre will show plenty of empty offices also and whilst empty office blocks tend to be easier to convert to residential, conversion rates remain slow.  Government attempts to speed this up through relaxation of planning powers seem to have already hit the rocks, with many of the London boroughs opting out of the new relaxation powers.  Then there are the empty pubs and nightclubs amongst the smattering of white elephants, such as the Mechanics Institute here in Swindon, still vacant and steadily declining.  So where is the salvation of the high street?  Certainly, the Portas Pilot towns, where Government money is being spent to revive run down town centres, are not producing any magic.

In my view, the lower consumer spending levels will continue while disposal incomes are being squeezed by rising fuel and raw material costs, static wages and negligible returns from savings.  Landlords are being forced to cut back rents to secure new shop lettings, but the Government needs to share the pain and ease the rates burden, whilst local authorities need to encourage footfall into town centres by making them readily accessible by positive traffic management to encourage traffic flows, rather than putting obstructions in to slow traffic.  Local authorities also need to be more flexible in allowing town centre events, street entertainment, market stalls or anything that will increase footfall.  That is why the College site redevelopment to bring in a new cinema and restaurants is so vital to Swindon. 

Posted by The Editor (wantspacegotspace) on 13th May 2013 (updated 17/05/2013)

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