The future of the high street

Reiss Carr, General Manager, Proplist

Reiss Carr, General Manager of commercial property listing portal Proplist, writes:

The retail sector and the high street has been in decline for several years and, when discussed, the usual reasons are the growth in internet shopping, business rates and costs for property and employment. However, these same impacts are being felt across Europe and, as a proportion of costs, the business running costs are similar. So why is the UK market being particularly impacted and what can be done about this?

This question has been asked again and again but has Covid-19 outbreak and the necessity to stay local given us to re-kindle our love of the high street – because it brought home how many people we know are actually employed by it (and in need to the JRS allowances right now) and, at our time of need is there for us.

2020 and the Covid-19 Pandemic will no doubt mark an interesting new chapter in our nation’s high street story – will high street gloom continue as fears grow over UK economy?

It was clear to see even pre Covid-19, the High street was taking a battering after another slump in sales towards the end of the 2019.

We have previously conducted a survey on why people were avoiding the high street, these issues were:

  • Parking or lack of!
  • Hours of operation not suitable to the average working day (9-5), whereas supermarkets tend to be open for longer.
  • A sheer lack of choice, the high street cannot compete with shopping centre’s for choice of shops.
  • No events or activity to make me want to go there, remember the high street carnivals and fun days of old for example? now a rarity.
  • Online is easier, and cheaper… I am guilty myself of seeing something in a shop and buying later via Amazon or eBay.
  • Don’t like going into butchers or grocers… millennial problem? not something I agree with personally, I love going to my local butchers!

Post Covid-19 will be the perfect time to level the playing field with business rates and the high street and online rivals. Part of election manifesto was a promise a “fundamental review” of business rates system. Pre Covid19 A letter was sent to Rishi Sunak where organisations inc British Property Federation, Federation of Small Businesses, British Chamber of Commerce and Association of Convenience Stores asking for a rapid reform to business rates. The fact that the retail sector accounts for 5% of the economy but pays roughly 10% of all business taxes and 25% of all business rates highlights a huge imbalance that is harming high streets and the communities they support.

The Government should try implement the reduction that a business is entitled to as a result of a revaluation, as opposed to continuing to collect more than is warranted over multiple years. Could the Welsh Government U-Turn on decision for business rates relief on retail and leisure properties with a rateable value over £500,000 have a negative or maybe a positive impact on this? This U-turn only affects around 200 premises in Wales and predominantly those are the large supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Morrisons and during this pandemic these stores are thriving so should they get relief? The Welsh government are planning to create £100M fund from this to support other businesses, social enterprises and charities.

We should work to improve the things that were keeping were keeping consumers away, longer opening hours, 2 hours free parking and street markets etc and capitalise on good will. The general public should now help a high street resurgence now that the importance of local businesses to them during this crisis has been emphasised. Will they play a more active role in defending the future of the local shops and high street?

The Covid-19 outbreak has seen many changes in the way we behave, forcing companies to alter everyday operations with employees work from home, reducing congestion and enhancing air quality. Limited exercise makes you appreciate getting some fresh air, this improvement to the environment has now encouraged me to walk to the local shops as opposed to previously driving!

I remain optimistic about the future of the High Street post Covid-19, we must redouble our efforts to reinvent our high streets, attract people to them, and help our businesses thrive in the process and I look forward to playing my part.

Reiss Carr
General Manager, Proplist