Belfast Telegraph

Retail suffering as food sales fall 4%

By Paul Gosling

The crisis in the high street should be addressed by a package of measures that include |reform of the business rates system and more effective regeneration of towns and cities, suggests a report from the CBI and property consultants EC Harris.

The report — ‘The Next Regeneration: Unlocking local growth’ — looks at the challenges facing the retail sector across the UK. It proposes that firms should have a business rates holiday for a year if they move into empty premises. The report also recommends changes to planning law to make it easier to convert |empty shops into homes, |more flexibility for cafes and restaurants to trade on adjacent pavements and greater public sector investment into town and city centre construction projects.

Closer partnerships between the private and public sectors should be formed to regenerate urban areas and to bring back into productive use property that is owned but underutilised by the public sector, adds the report.

It proposes that Business |Improvement Districts evolve into investment bodies that |can lead, organise, design and implement area improvement plans.

Katja Hall, the CBI’s chief |policy director, said: “Too many grand regeneration projects of the past have failed to deliver and public money has been wasted. We want to ensure growth reaches all parts of the UK and that means co-ordinated action to rejuvenate our towns and cities.

“The high street is the beating heart of our towns and cities, but we can’t reinvent them |as they once were. That’s why we’re calling for action on business rates to ease the pressure on retailers and for planning laws to be relaxed to turn empty shops into homes and create more of a cafe culture. To kick-start private sector investment we need to see more creative use of public-sector balance sheets and surplus land and property being put to good use.”

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