Sir Terry Leahy: we must put the heart back into our high streets
I’d like to highlight three changes in particular that need to happen:
(1) We need to stop the steady rise in car park charges, which deters shoppers from venturing out. Many people rely on the car to shop. Rather than hitting them with higher charges, supermarkets, local amenities (like leisure centres) and councils should come together to think how big, free car parks can draw people into town centres.
(2) A neighbourhood plan could be put together to revive a local high street, in which case there should be just one architect and just one team in charge, empowered by the local community to transform their neighbourhood. Look at my home town, Liverpool. Run down and still bearing the scars of wartime bombing, its city centre had been written-off. A grand, £1 billion investment plan, Liverpool One, backed by one of the country’s largest property companies, Grosvenor, was drawn up. Decried by some as “too ambitious”, a good team has now transformed the city.
(3) Business rates need radical reform. When recession hits, small shopkeepers can see their revenues collapse through no fault of their own, but the business rates they pay remain the same. The system must change so that rates reflect the economic activity of the store.
I know what you are thinking: “He may say all this, but in reality the supermarkets and chain stores will squeeze out small operators.” The truth is that money is needed to reinvent high streets, and the most likely source of that investment is going to be large retailers and property companies.
Between them they have expertise, understanding of consumers, and the incentive to create sustainable, attractive places to shop. They know that consumers shy away from identikit high streets in which old buildings have been torn down in the name of functionality. A diverse range of outlets including chains, boutiques, places to eat and have fun – this is where the money now lies.