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Radical Change Recommended for our High Streets

When you think of all the things that Coronavirus has been blamed for over the last few months, few would have expected that it would be held responsible for saving our high streets.  But the Grimsey Review entitled ‘Build Back Better’ published this month suggests that Coronavirus may well be the ‘disruptive shock’ that the high street needs to potentially fix a problem that has been three decades in the making.

The results of a recent YouGov poll revealed that only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak is over.  Many have experienced significant changes during lockdown and there is a growing realisation that a better life is possible, and that we should use this opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’.

The high street has to be a part of this.  The review describes the current situation on our high streets as ‘carnage’ with almost 50% of retailers at risk of failure. So what’s the solution?

The review suggests that the future of our high streets should rest with local people who should be empowered to redesign their own high streets and have a say in the businesses, services and amenities that occupy them.  Local economies need to be built around people who have a proper stake in their communities and not ‘distant investors’.

Localism is key – which will require a massive shift of power away from central government and Westminster to local councils and local communities.   The environment, sustainability and more green spaces are likely to be central to the future of our high streets as are simpler and fairer taxes for businesses and a review of pay structures to recognise and reward essential workers.

The review makes several recommendations, a number of which are summarised below:

  1. Transferring power to communities

This could see: the establishment of ‘Citizen Assemblies’ to generate a community plan for our high streets that moves beyond retail.  Rewards for keyworkers through a voucher scheme redeemable in local restaurants. Community ‘right-to-buy’ to put unused or neglected properties back on the market.  A reduction in streets and the expansion of green spaces.

  1. Leadership

Local leaders need to be valued and recognised in the same way that powerful mayors are viewed in other countries.  Good practice also needs to be shared and working collaboratively is to be encouraged.

  1. Taxation

Take the opportunity to scrap business rates in the retail sector altogether. Replace it with a straight forward 2% sales tax that will raise the same amount as before and level the playing field between online and offline retailers.

  1. Property

Commercial landlords should be encouraged to look at linking rents to the success of the occupying business.  An expert group should be convened to devise a new formula for a ‘fair rent’ for retail premises.

  1. Planning

Deregulate the use class system and give Local Authorities the opportunity to develop an appropriate proposition to attract people to live, work, play and visit a unique town centre.

  1. Transport

Incentivise people to give up cars and recognise that towns and cities must no longer be designed around the car.  This should make the 20-minute neighbourhood a central principal of the planning system in order to encourage people to travel less, buy locally and be able to get all the services they need within a short walk.

Local economies need to be built around people who have a proper stake in their communities and not ‘distant investors’.

The review puts forward some interesting and innovative solutions for the future, which if implemented will see our high streets reimagined.  Such radical change is crucial if there is to be real change. There is no doubt that during lockdown we have all had time to think and reassess our lives, our values and what’s important to us.  Let’s hope that as we emerge from lockdown this gives us the drive and motivation to put our new thoughts and ideas into action, so that the lasting legacy of the coronavirus pandemic is that we do ‘Build Back Better’.

The full review can be found here:

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About this article

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