As a long term retailer myself the future of our local high streets are very important to me. I’ve seen retail from all sides, as part of a large national store chain and as a small independent. I know the problems faced by all small retailers and local high street businesses. High rents, intransigent investment landlords, escalating rates bills and spiralling costs.
Successive governments have promised lease reform and root and branch reforms of the business rates system. Yet all we’ve had are TV celebrities turning the livelihoods and dreams of small retailers into a TV series.
I want to see proper investment in our high streets to turn them back into the vibrant social hubs they once were. Not just investment in terms of cash, but also in commitment from government to put the interests of our high streets and town centres first.
Banbury Town Centre and it’s small traders are working hard to revitalise the area and they deserve the support of local and national government. In the market square we’ve seen a once thriving community of stall-holders squeezed into an ever diminishing space with little or no consultation.
Meanwhile in Bicester, the town is struggling to deal with yet more expansion of the behemoth that Bicester village has become.
We need to see proper, workable plans to support town centres and less capitulation to large developers building mall after mall outside towns.
We need a realistic, transparent review of business rates that reflects the reality of life on the high street today and takes into account the fluctuations in trade from year to year.
Finally we need to halt the unfettered and largely manipulated commercial property market where landlords often leave properties empty rather than accept a realistic rent for them.
I know the retail industry inside out. Indeed a write on it for the national trade magazine Retail Week and speak on retail on a national and international basis.
I will always fight for independent retailers and our high streets to make sure that we still have town centres to be proud of. I’m not looking backwards, trying to re-create the shopping experience of the past. I’m looking to see the modern shopping landscapes that have been pioneered by malls brought into high street environments.
Easy access, fair parking schemes (not necessarily free), mixed use and a professional promotion and events driven culture are all advantages used to entice shoppers to use out of town malls. Lets apply those to our town centres and bring them back to life!