Too many town centres are being allowed to slowly die by the local authorities tasked to look after them and the government must intervene, it has been claimed by a leading property firm.
Land broker Aston Mead, which is based in Egham in Surrey but does business all over the Home Counties, says too many high streets are dominated by charity shops and estate agent branches.
Instead, the company says, a more creative approach should be taken to introduce a greater mix of retail, businesses and community services back into town centres to reinvigorate them.
“The grim truth is that many of our High Streets are no longer fit for purpose,” says Adam Hesse of Aston Mead (below).
“Companies which are failing to move with the times are going under, not helped by the boom in internet shopping.
“But leaving these businesses to their own devices will only mean that the situation is likely to stagnate further.”
Figures from Experian published recently reveal that internet shopping’s share of retail spending has risen from approximately 5% in 2006 to 13% today and is predicted to rise to nearly 17% by 2030.
Aston Mead offers several radical solutions to these problems including giving incentives to companies that are thriving outside towns to return to the centre, clearing out ‘struggling’ businesses to free up central retail and office space and redeveloping outer retail zones into housing.
The company also says shoppers should be offered free parking and that business rates should be waived for start-up retailers and other businesses.
“For example, why don’t local authorities employ retired planning officers to go around the towns in each of their boroughs, to see which sites – often secondary retail parades, garages and car showrooms – are currently under-utilised,” says Hesse.
“Then, if the government gives local authorities enough power, the councils could compulsorily purchase those premises which are struggling, and relocate the thriving businesses to empty retail units in the heart of town.”
He says that this process would encourage town centres to become more vibrant, with fewer empty shops, more residents moving in, and the opportunity to redevelop the sites on the edge of the town centre.