Chiswick Shops Task Force Issues Major Report
Claims 'thoughtless imposition' of council policies damaging local retail trade
A major report on the state of the retail trade in the area ‘Ensuring a thriving retail economy in Chiswick’ has been published by the Chiswick Shops Task Force.
The group is led by councillors from both councils that cover the W4 area and this is its first report.
Based on information collected over an 18 month period, the detailed survey makes a series of recommendations which aim to stem the apparent inexorable decline of shops in the area.
Lead author of the report and Leader of the Conservative group on Hounslow Council Cllr Joanna Biddolph (Turnham Green) said, “We have spent 18 months listening to local traders, seeking to understand what affects their businesses, for the better and for the worse, and their needs when building and maintaining successful businesses, and working with them to protect and improve our wonderfully diverse shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants.”
Besides the obvious issues of rents and rates, both of which are looked at in detail, the report identifies a number of other key problems which it says face traders today.
These include the ‘thoughtless imposition’ of policies that affect Chiswick’s retail economy, a failure to listen to traders leading to a poor relationship with Hounslow council and the absence of effective policies that encourage walking and cycling without damaging the retail sector.
The report states, “Sadly, we found that Hounslow Council has a poor reputation with retailers in Chiswick. The council appears to lack understanding of the retail sector and this has resulted in flawed, expensive and ineffective attempts to bolster the retail economy here. There is a need for significant shifts in thinking, attitude and policy direction to win the trust of traders. Ealing has a better reputation among its retailers but there is always more to be done.”
High rents are identified as a key reason for businesses failing in Chiswick. The task force says that when landlords charge the market rate it is often the market rate for failure and that they should be encourage to set rents at a level which allow businesses to become established.
According to the report , “One trader was recently told by a reliable source that a chain restaurant which closed on Chiswick High Road in 2018 was paying more in rent per square foot for its Chiswick premises than for its branch in Kensington. While we are glad to live in a desirable area and to benefit from generally buoyant house values, ranking Chiswick above Kensington is a step too far.”
It is pointed out how the rating system works against smaller business in Chiswick due to the way the HighJuly 18, 2020 rateable value with space further back given a discount. This creates the anomaly that shops like Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are rated at just £225 per square foot in rates whereas recently closed shops such as Clifton News (£1,500) and Daniel Footwear (£1,300) were assessed at a far higher rate.
As one Chiswick trader with a very small shop space told the report’s authors, “I pay the council more every month than I pay myself”.
It is claimed that the council has a fundamental misunderstanding of how the retail sector works and that a lack of parking near shops and threats to remove more of what remains will only hasten decline.
Cllr Gabriella Giles (Chiswick Riverside) said, “One of the challenges is to keep Chiswick’s shopping streets attractive and relevant for new generations growing up with an online shopping habit. That’s why we need the backing of Hounslow Council to make sure we defend what we’ve got and don’t undermine it with ill-thought out, centrally imposed policies such as the recent traffic and parking changes which fail to recognise how and where Chiswick residents shop.”
The report dismisses the idea that increased competition from online retailers is the main reason for the decline of Chiswick’s high street and those across the nation. It points out that online still only represents 20% of retail sales overall but that local traders say that footfall on the High Road has fallen by much more than this. The report states that multi-layered complexities, including geography are contributing to Chiswick being harder hit.
The report does see opportunities for the sector including the possibility of changing the culture around rents and leases to retain successful businesses and attract more and a fundamental review of the business rate system. They would like to see changes to policies for street furniture, recycling and waste collections, lighting and policing to maintain and improve Chiswick’s local environment
The report recommends a new policy on street furniture; banning further advertising hoardings and removing existing advertising stands; refusing permission for street furniture and signs that impede movement, visibility and views and installing road signs with more thought and care with the notorious road sign on Turnham Green Terrace given as an example of worst practice. They would also like to see restrictions on out of area event advertising and want the council to keep tackling graffiti and flyposting.
32 ideas are advanced to celebrate and promote aspects of Chiswick from art and literature to crafts and the Battle of Turnham Green as well as significantly improving the Christmas shopping experience.
The task force wants to see the council adopting what it describes as a listening culture based on working together for the benefit of traders, residents and, by encouraging a successful retail economy, themselves.
Other recommendations include providing traders with a daytime waste and recycling service; making waste bins attractive, installing more tidy bin stores and emptying them more frequently. They also want to see more banners, bunting planters and better light as well as the establishment of a shop fronts grant scheme and a reduction in the impact of empty units. The would like to see a policy of saying no to further charity shops and to more estate agents using ground floor premises.
The report also highlights the need for the council how they could do more of their own procurement from businesses within the borough. For example, Hounslow council’s choice of Halfords as its partner in the Cycle to Work scheme might mean it is easier to administer. But it denied valued, local independents, such as Fudge’s Cycles and Woolsey of Acton the chance to benefit from them and contribute to the local economy.
On transport they would like to see a review of the Cycleway 9 plan in light of the Covid-19 outbreak and more consideration given to improving cycleways along the A4 and a cycle plan that meets the needs of local people including improving routes for people travelling north to south and vice versa. They also call for improved bus services and step free access on local tube and train stations. The report calls on the council to recognise that parking is essential to retailers and many customers and that they should reinstate, maintain and publicise all free stop and shop parking. They want the council to extend free parking in the main Sainsbury’s car park to give customers time to shop elsewhere than the supermarket.
Cllr Biddolph says, “Some of our proposals may be controversial and not everyone will agree with all of them but we are committed to discussing these ideas – and others that people in the community want to share – at a public meeting as soon as we are able to hold one. We have so much that is good in Chiswick to protect and be proud of – and our shop owners work so hard and invest so much in our lovely neighbourhood – but there are so many ways in which we can make it better for them. And we must do so.”
Although the report is lukewarm on the idea of Chiswick becoming a Business Improvement District as many retailers are struggling financially at the moment, they do think a forum for independent retailers to discuss the state of the industry should be established.
Chiswick Shops Task Force concludes that it would like to work with Hounslow Council to support retailers and that it should implement recommendations raised at a public meeting on the future of Chiswick to debate what local people and local traders want from the area.
Cllr Anthony Young (Ealing Council) who founded Young Veterinary Partnership which continues, after his retirement, at Bedford Corner, concludes, “We’ve been inspired by the energy and commitment to Chiswick of our local traders and by the good
Cllr Shantanu Rajawat, Cabinet Member for Financial Services at Hounslow Council said, "The sustainable future and growth of our town centres has always been important to the Council, but given the significant impact of Coronavirus, it is even more vital at this point. As part of the Council’s Recovery plan we have set up an Economic Recovery Taskforce. This will, amongst other things, evaluate the impact on local high streets such as Chiswick High Street and support a programme of economic recovery and regeneration.
July 18, 2020