Slash parking charges to bring shoppers back to high street, councils told

20 Dec 18

Local authorities should use empty shops more effectively and reduce parking charges to bring the high streets back to life, according to recommendations made to the government. 

High streets will “never be the same again” and councils and community groups must have a “clear vision for the future”, a government-commissioned report, released today, has said. 

The document, produced by a panel led by retail expert John Timpson, said: “Local authorities do not have the resources to produce and finance a professional comprehensive plan that would achieve a step change and future-proof their town centres.”

To secure the future of high streets, the report suggested local government should work alongside businesses and community groups to come up with a strategy.

The report, released by the Ministry for Housing, Local Government and Communities, recommended that local authorities “use their initiative” to encourage landlords and tenants to think innovatively about how to use empty properties.

It said: “Empty shops can be depressing eyesores that drag down shopping areas. It can be hard for local stakeholders to know who owns these properties, and we would like to see further detail on the announcement at Budget 2018 to pilot a register of empty properties in selected local authorities.”

Councils should also review parking charges to encourage people to shop in their local high street, the document said.

“While gathering evidence, it became clear that parking is an important factor taken into account when people decide where to shop,” it suggested. 

“In the short term local authorities should review their parking provision to make sure that existing restrictions and charges are working to support accessibility to local businesses, encouraging footfall and attracting customers to town centres and high streets.”

Timpson said: “We knew high streets would never be the same again, but we were delighted to discover places where imaginative developments have increased footfall and reduced the number of empty shops.

“By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.”

Timpson shared his interim findings with government in autumn which resulted in the £675m Future High Streets Fund announced in the Budget.

The report said the future high streets fund should go to “places that show a clear vision for their town centre” and ones that demonstrate cross sector leadership.

High streets minister Jake Berry said: “High streets and town centres play an important role in the life of our communities.

“We have already taken action by announcing plans to set up a future high streets fund and task force, alongside slashing business rates for up to a third of small retailers. We will carefully consider these recommendations.”

The government has said it is committed to increasing councils’ business rates retention to 75% by 2020-21. It is currently conducting pilots for both 100% and 75% retention.

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