Policy

Improving high streets and town centres

Issue

Our high streets and town centres are facing serious challenges from out-of-town shopping centres and the growth of online and mobile retailing. Our high streets need to be social places with a vibrant evening economy and to offer something that neither shopping centres nor the internet can match.

Actions

Two years on from the Portas Review, this government has put in place a wide range of measures to help the high street, including funding 24 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams - seen here on this map and support from dedicated local experts to help the Portas Pilots and town teams adapt their high streets to changing consumer behaviour.

Support for local shops and high streets

In December 2013, as part of the government’s long-term economic plan, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles set out a billion pound package of support for the UK’s high streets.. On 1 April 2014 the changes came into effect.

A central part of the high streets support plan is to create more jobs by backing British business and the measures in the package will make it easier for all the shops on Britain’s high streets to grow, expand and take people on.

Business rates

Changes to the business rates were announced as part of the Autumn Statement and came into effect on 1 April 2014.

The support for businesses includes:

  • a £1,000 discount in 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016 for retail premises with a rateable value of up to £50,000 - including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants (300,000 retail businesses are eligible)
  • capping the Retail Price Index (RPI) increase in bills to 2% in 2014 to 2015 - businesses were expecting a 3.2% rise
  • extending the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief to April 2015
  • a reoccupation relief for 18 months with a 50% discount for new occupants of retail premises empty for a year or more
  • allowing businesses to pay their bills over 12 months (rather than 10), which will help every firm with their cashflow

Parking

Independent experts have warned that aggressive parking policies are harming local high streets and local shops. We are getting rid of aggressive parking policies by changing the previous approach of setting parking fees to discourage car use and provide ‘maximum’ parking levels. We’ve also changed planning rules to allow councils to make decisions about parking requirements and fees in order to best meet local needs. We’ve consulted on guidance that encourages councils to attract shoppers by setting competitive parking charges, and to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure.

Local leadership

The government is committed to helping local authorities and businesses and those who work on the ground as they are best placed to know what could make their high street thrive. We’ve announced new support to help communities re-energise their high streets by community led-renewal and business improvement districts. In March 2014, Brandon Lewis announced new powers for property owners in London which will give landlords a greater say in revitalising their high streets.

Supporting local markets

In 2012, we teamed up with the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) to set up the Love Your Local Market Campaign. The aim is to help new market traders starting up businesses, and celebrate and promote our local markets.

The 2013 campaign ran from 15 to 29 May, with 700 markets taking part in 3,500 events during the fortnight and 2,800 new traders taking part. We are pleased to announce the Love Your Local Market 2014 campaign will be held from 14 to 28 May 2014.

Planning

Planning restrictions have been lifted to help landlords make better use of their empty properties, either by allowing them to lease for shorter periods, helping start-up businesses to set up in the high street, or by making it easier to turn commercial properties into residential facilities to increase resident population and local footfall.

Changes to permitted development rights will offer town centres the flexibility they need to adapt existing buildings. The government will consult on permitting change of use from retail to restaurants, cinemas, gyms, skating rinks and swimming pools.

Background

As part of the growth agenda, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister commissioned retail expert Mary Portas to conduct an independent review of the high street’s future.

The Portas Review: an independent review into the future of our high streets was published on 13 December 2011. It set out what Mary Portas thought had led to the decline of the high street and made 28 recommendations about what could be done – by government, local authorities and business – to breathe life back into them.

Who we’re working with

The Future High Streets Forum brings together leading businesses, academics and local leaders to look at the challenges facing our town centres and work with councils to build on what government has started.

In December 2013 Brandon Lewis announced an extension of the Future High Streets Forum to support and reflect the changing nature of high streets to include representatives from the hospitality, leisure, food and services sectors - all of which play a major role in the success of our high streets, providing local jobs and contributing billions to the UK economy

In January 2014 Argos, one of the UK’s leading retailers, announced it will join the Future High Streets Forum.

Members of the forum are also working with the department to support Portas Pilots and Town Teams and the Love Your Local Market campaign.

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