THE promise in the Queen’s Speech to reduce business rates for half a million independent shops, restaurants, pubs and cinemas is the latest measure to stave struggling high streets.
It is also a candid admission, on the part of the Government, that previous measures have not worked as new figures reveal the number of former shops now standing empty in Yorkshire.
And while it is welcome that Boris Johnson recognises the myriad problems facing independent retailers, the Boxing Day sales will not mask the financial crisis facing many smaller shops. As such, Mr Johnson should look to go further next year and look to increase the amount of tax paid by online retailers with this money going towards community-led schemes to revitalise town centres.
Every empty shop is a symbol of decay – a potential magnet for vandals and so on. But every vacant building is also an opportunity to start a new business or convert property into much-needed accommodation to help tackle the housing shortage.
And while very strict planning rules have previously made it difficult for developers, and landlords, to change the designated use of buildings, a new decade demands a more enlightened approach. After all, the key issue is footfall. If town centres can become a more attractive proposition for shoppers and employers, or places where people want to live, they can still survive and thrive. But it requires the Government, in conjunction with local councils, to put in place a 2020 vision for retail from sensible parking charges to tax and pragmatic planning rules that value high streets.