Can Jeremy Corbyn Save Chiswick High Road?
Labour proposing councils be allowed to take over vacant units
In a week which saw yet another significant closure in the centre of Chiswick, Jeremy Corbyn has announced the Labour Party’s plans to save high street retailing
The premises of Kitchen and Pantry has been closed up with no indication of if or when it will reopen raising the prospect of another vacant unit in the centre of town. Close by, the former Pain Quotidian has remained empty for over a year with weeds growing on its forecourt giving a once vibrant Chiswick High Road a down at heel feel.
The number of retail units which have been vacant nationally for more than 12 months is currently estimated at 29,000 and there are over a dozen premises in Chiswick that have been boarded up for that long.
Now, the Labour leader has said that he wants to give local authorities the power to acquire premises like this and then hand them over to start-up business and community projects in an attempt to reverse what he describes as a ‘retail apocalypse’. Mr Corbyn, said his proposals were a "radical plan" to turn "the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street."
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said councils should be given back-up powers to manage shops that have been vacant for more than a year.
He said it was about "stopping that downward spiral we often see of boarded-up shops and premises in the town centre".
A spokesperson Chiswick Shops Task Force, a group comprising local councillors and business, said, “In all our many discussions with Chiswick traders, not one has suggested sequestration as the answer to the problem. The issues are far more complex and wide ranging than this simple property-grab based on a ‘what’s yours is mine’ philosophy. It also leaves many questions unanswered such as, if these sequestered units are to be brought back into use, at what rent and rates will they be made available? If they are offered at a lower rent and rates than other nearby shops are paying, that creates a distorted market and unfair competition. Any preferential treatment would be wrong. It could mean that businesses that are trading successfully are driven out of business - solving nothing. This is a simplistic headline-catcher of a policy that hasn’t been properly thought-through. It shows how little Labour understands entrepreneurialism, the retail industry and what is needed to bring life back to high streets. Policies driven by the politics of envy will not serve Chiswick well. “
However another local business said of the plan, “It isn’t the worst idea and something drastic has to be done. The threat of the premises being taken over by the council would be enough to force landlords and agents to accept a lower rent for the unit which could then provide a benchmark for other businesses in Chiswick. It is highly unlikely that the council would ever actually take over any premises. Given that this policy is never likely to be implemented the council should be looking at more real world solutions such as a more intelligent management of parking in central Chiswick and relief for businesses who are at risk of going under during the construction of the cycle path.”
Local growth minister Jake Berry said, "Jeremy Corbyn would wreck the economy, meaning more boarded-up shops and fewer jobs and he would tax small businesses and scare off the investment needed to help our high streets.”
He added that the government would "deliver Brexit by 31 October, so that we can get on with levelling up opportunities across our country and breathe new life into high streets and town centres".
August 18, 2019