InÂ a November 2012 guest column for The Oxfordshire Guardian newspaper series, Ian Middleton, Retail Week columnist and Managing Director of Argenteus Jewellery on Oxfordâs Cornmarket, on the âFair Rates for Retailâ campaign…
Thereâs been discussion recently about the re-tasking of town centre shops into residential and other uses. The argument being that shuttered stores are never going to re-open and we may as well be realistic about their demise. Proponents include some retail use but not as the predominant element. The theory is that if you encourage people to build living communities in an area, then theyâll shop locally in the few stores that might remain.
Perhaps this is inevitable, indeed itâs becoming increasingly difficult to argue against the idea from a pragmatic perspective. But it feels like once you allow the concept to take root itâll spread like Japanese knotweed and be just as difficult to kill off.Â
There are still things that can be done to save the High Street, and independent retail is in the vanguard. For a start thereâs an encouraging upsurge in local initiatives and support groups which is inspiring many new would-be entrepreneurs to give it a go.
Recent data suggests that small retailers are opening stores at roughly the same rate that chain stores are leaving, thereby keeping the void rates roughly stable. But this canât be sustained indefinitely.
A perfect storm may well hit us next year if Government proposals to add a further Â£170m to retailersâ business rates go ahead. Coming on top of a Â£300m increase this year and a continuing decline in trade, we may see vacancy rates edging up again soon. That will of course give more impetus to the re-tasking argument.
Currently thereâs a campaign being run by the BRC and Retail Week Magazine to try to change the Governmentâs mind on the proposed increase. Iâd encourage anyone who values their local High Street to get involved and most importantly to sign the petition.Â Details can be found at www.brc.org.uk