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BRC criticises Government’s ‘lack of bold vision’ over Portas Review

The British Retail Consortium has slammed the Government for “its lack of bold vision” in executing Mary Portas’ plan to revitalise British high streets.

Government this morning published its response to the Portas Review, designed to revive the UK’s ailing high streets.

Although the majority of the 28 recommendations have been accepted the Government rejected a key proposal for “exceptional sign off” for all new out of town developments, which caused a stir among retailers when it was put forward.

BRC director of business Tom Ironside said: “We’re pleased there are no indications the Government is intent on undermining consumer choice by penalising other shopping locations but nor is there much support for town centres.

“This was an opportunity to revitalise our town centres for the 21st century but is in danger of becoming just another report on a dusty shelf.”

The Government said the “exceptional sign off” proposal goes against its localist agenda, which aims to give more power to local authorities.

“We will continue to use the call-in power sparingly,” the response said.

The Government has today launched a tranche of incentives to get high streets back on track, including almost £13m in funding.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This is not the end of the Government’s response to Mary’s review – it is the beginning. These measures give people the incentive and encouragement to take the lead and work together to put their creative ideas into practice.

“We look forward to seeing high streets across the country becoming the hearts of their communities once again.”

The Government has recognised difficulties retailers are facing with upward only rent reviews, supporting the recommendation to encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the Leasing Code, as retailers seek shorter more flexible leases.

The Leasing Code recommends alternative rent options as part of the lease terms if requested by the tenant.

No further measures have been put forward to ease the 5.6% business rates increase which is set to hit retailers next month.

But the Government said it was committed to reviewing how business rates are calculated against the Retail Price Index. The British Retail Consortium is lobbying Government to move from RPI to the lower CPI rate of inflation.

Increasing disincentives to prevent landlords leaving units vacant, has also been snubbed, as the Government believes existing disincentives go far enough.

Government said: “We do not want to add pressure to struggling businesses and prevent much-need investment in the premises.”

Instead Government plans to develop an industry-led cross sector taskforce, which will look at a bringing commercial property back into use or attracting investment to improve the prospects of high streets and town centres.

Local authorities will also be urged to compile a register of high street landlords to help Town Teams “develop a collaborative approach among relevant partners”.

Ironside added: “It’s good to see extra funding to help Business Improvement Districts and to support councils in dealing with empty properties but this doesn’t address the core challenges.

“Bolder moves which could’ve made a significant difference are missing, particularly in the light of the extra £350 million retailers will have to find because of this year’s business rates rise.”

Source : Tiffany Holland – Retail Week

30 March 2012
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