How should the crisis on the high street be addressed? Paul Drechsler's remarks in an FT debate
2 May 2019
Let’s not prematurely announce the death of the high street. Changing shopping patterns, notably but not only the growth of on-line mean it will look different: it’ll be experience-led, multi-use and more compact; and many retailers are getting on with essential restructuring and building in flexibility to their offer.
But flexibility is expensive — running parallel omni-channel operations, investing in integrated systems, fighting for new talent, re-branding, re-fitting, re-training. So if we want change to happen with fewer casualties we need to tackle the big overhead barriers — bad taxes and archaic planning.
Business rates need urgent reform. London rates rose by an average of 23.7% at the 2019 revaluation. That’s a drag on London’s competitiveness, not just on retail. We need the devolution of business rates, amongst other taxes, and annual revaluation — not the 3 yearly recently proposed by the government.
And we need to abandon rigid, last century, planning rules based on a 9 – 5 high-street and enable the kind of vibrant live-work-eat-play, 24h places that consumers increasingly demand. The high streets that succeed in the future will be more compact, with a strong leisure offer and more housing in the immediate vicinity. Councils need to embrace the change their residents really want, modernise planning and, where necessary, use their powers to deal with fragmented ownership which can make change difficult. It’ll be the rumpus-embracing, commerce-friendly, early-adopting councils whose high-streets thrive.
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