Government promises to put Town Centres First are not being delivered by cash-strapped local councils, the British Council of Shopping Centres (BSCS) has said today, warning that the British high street may “reach crisis point” if action is not taken.
The industry body, which represents 2,500 landlords, retailers and retail agents across the UK, has submitted an outline of its primary concerns over the planning policy to the Government ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement next week.
Initially implemented in 1996 to regenerate ailing town centres, the policy has been retained under the Coalition, which has sought to concentrate on improving the state of the retail sector partially through its commissioning of a review of the high street from retail guru Mary Portas last year.
Last year, the Government stated that it was “fully committed to supporting town centres” and then Minister of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark said that local councils and commuties would be given “new powers…to determine and influence what happens in their area.”
However, BCSC has noted that its members are unable to deliver town centre investment at present as “well intentioned” Government policy is not being consistently adopted nationwide.
The body noted that data compiled by EGi Research found that just 24 per cent of all new retail schemes over 50,000 sq ft in the pipeline this year are being developed in town centres, a 12 per cent decrease on last year and 32 per cent fall on 2010.
George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is set to call for business rates reform though the group has called for the introduction of business rate exemption zones in areas where owners and developers are committed to regeneration projects, as well as recommending that the Coalition works together with BCSC to discuss how best policy can be implemented across the board.
Michael Green, BCSC CEO, explained: “After the significant government support for and media interest in the Portas Review, it is becoming a thing of political history before the recommendations have been implemented.
“As the industry battles to save Britain’s town centres, their demise is dropping swiftly off the government’s radar.
“Policy may have been formulated, but research shows that it is not being implemented on the ground, and what use is a policy that is not adopted, particularly one so critical to the health of our towns and cities?
“Councils must do more to plan proactively for town centre retail investment, and our members are eager to engage with local political leaders to ensure this happens.”