Ghost towns

The Sunday Times has an article today on how the recession is depressing high streets across the UK.

For Wales, and Anglesey in particular, it does not make happy reading with three towns in the top ten of Britain’s worst-hit high streets. Holyhead is the worst, with 39% of all shops in the high street being empty and llangefni, the second major town on the island, having just under a quarter of its shops empty.
  1. Holyhead (39%)
  2. Beckton, London (37%)
  3. Rochdale (29%)
  4. Blaydon, Tyne and Wear (28%)
  5. Rotherham (26%)
  6. Barry, South Glamorgan (24%)
  7. Kirkintilloch, Glasgow (24%)
  8. Loughborough (24%)
  9. Llangefni, North Wales (23%)
  10. Small Heath, Birmingham (23%)

So what can be done. A number of solutions are suggested, including

  • Rates freeze - Retailers want Alistair Darling, the chancellor, to freeze a 5% increase in business rates due next month
  • Upward rent review - Clauses that allow landlords to raise rents automatically should be scrapped, argues the British Retail Consortium
  • Emergency powers - Councils want to be able to take over shops vacant for more than three months and turn them into galleries, community centres and other public spaces. They would pay a modest rent
  • Vat cut - Councils want the Vat rate to be reduced from 15% to 5% for the refurbishment of empty premises to encourage shops to reopen
  • Cheap parking - Councils should no longer regard parking as a way of generating revenue, instead stimulating trade by charging less, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) argues. Councils raised £1.6 billion in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available
  • Planning - Small businesses want the government to give planners discretionary powers to veto out-of-town shopping centres if there is a risk they could weaken the high street
  • Post offices - They should be kept open if they are profitable
However, as this blog has said time and time again, there needs to be an urgent freezing of business rates across Wales to ensure that small shops can survive through this current downturn. After all, if the Assembly can make £46 million available to help the car industry, then it could, and should, do the same for our retail sector.

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