12% of Town Centre Shops now Vacant

Retirement at 65 could be scrapped in 2010

Retirement at 65 could be scrapped in 2010A bright, post-recession future is possible for UK high streets but they need to be actively planned, managed and nurtured if it is to be achieved.

A new British Retail Consortium (BRC) report published today (Tuesday) shows the impact recession is having on town centre retailing – 12% of town centre shops are now vacant, three times more than last autumn – but it also demonstrates that many of our high streets have been struggling for years.

High streets are at the heart of our communities and need to evolve as society changes but retailing will always be a fundamental part of successful town centres. It is clear that in many places, recession is accelerating a trend of decline that was already underway.

Alex Gourlay Chief Executive of the Health & Beauty Division, Alliance Boots, said:

"With a branch of Boots on almost every high street across the UK, we are acutely aware of the vital importance of ensuring the long term vitality of our town centres. They help to define the nature of the communities which they serve, where people not only shop but also where they live, work and access essential services.

"Clearly these are challenging times for many UK high streets. We support the BRC report which, if delivered, will maintain and strengthen high streets’ vitality and viability, ensuring they have a bright and prosperous future. We commend it to all those with a stake in the future of UK town centres."

The BRC’s report 21st Century High Streets: A new vision for our town centres sets out a twenty-point plan for securing the long-term future of town centre retailing well beyond the end of this recession. Key recommendations include:

Economic health – Curing ill health is easier than reviving the dead. There should be a careful programme of economic health monitoring, especially for town centres approaching ‘tipping points’.

Public spaces – Town centres need good design, making the most of heritage features or natural surroundings to create a unique sense of place. Then they must be very well maintained.

Crime – Real priority must be given to deterring all forms of retail crime and anti-social behaviour. To prevent a downward spiral, damaged property must be restored quickly.

Costs – High streets need central Government backing. There must be no new property and business rate burdens and a responsible and inclusive approach from local authorities to the money they raise and spend.

Access – Parking and transport policy should be directed at providing a service to customers and retailers, not exploited as a local authority fund raiser.

Stephen Robertson British Retail Consortium Director General said:

"High streets are the heart of local communities and economies – providing jobs and essential services. They are a crucial part of our national retail mix but many of them are in trouble, facing difficulties that began well before the current recession.

"Some will flourish again as the economy recovers; others have to shape a different future as customers’ needs change. But that cannot be left to chance. These processes have to be actively managed by local authorities with their retailers, other businesses and residents."

The BRC report includes 20 case studies of initiatives aimed at delivering great environments in which to trade and shop.

For example Chester addressed declining afternoon footfall by making some car parks ‘Free after 3.00′, Swansea runs an annual Independents’ Day to boost independent traders, Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership has its own magazine, Dundee stages its own retail awards and Belfast is spending £28 million on upgrading the city centre shopping area.

Read the BRC’s report 21st Century High Streets: A new vision for our town centres.

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