The High Street and Independent Retail

As a long term retailer myself, the future of our local high streets is 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 celebrities turning the livelihoods and dreams of small retailers into a TV series.

I’ve long wanted 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. However, since the pandemic and other pressures on the economy we need to look for a new model for physical retail in an age dominated by online and experiential offers.

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.

In Kidlington we have an opportunity to create a thriving local high street, but that is currently proving difficult for all the traditional reasons associated with overheads pressures.

We need to see proper, workable plans to support town centres and less capitulation to large developers building mall after mall outside towns. Equally we need to see councils invest more in small shops and less on large shopping centres and precincts. We also 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.

Moreover, 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. It’s staggering that years after the pandemic we still don’t have that, although there’s likely to be a reduction in business rates as a result of undated valuations.

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 modern shopping landscapes fit for the next generation of shopkeepers and consumers.


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