£350 million price tag of Londonís 7,000 empty shops

Councils need devolved powers to help grow local economy

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London Councils

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The capital has almost 7,000 vacant shops, costing the London economy £350 million in lost trade and earnings, a new study has revealed.

Streets Ahead, produced by London Councils, which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, looks at the capital’s high streets and makes a range of recommendations to improve the local economy.

The study calls for the government to grant councils more powers to curb betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets, which can damage high streets. It shows that devolving more powers to councils would help stimulate growth and new jobs.

Dianna Neal, Head of Economy, Culture and Tourism at London Councils said: “The study’s findings highlight the need for the radical devolution of power and resources to councils to help businesses adapt to a changed consumer environment.

“The government could halt further decline by devolving powers to councils to support high streets, such as the ability to stop the damaging spread of betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets.”

Boroughs currently do not have the power to control retail outlets which can deter visitors and also have damaging wider social effects, adding to obesity, gambling addiction and serious debt. Recent changes have also made it easier to turn offices into residential units, also undermining growth and local decision making.

The study features a number of innovative case studies as to how boroughs are supporting their local high streets. For example:

 -          The London Borough of Harrow’s Inward Investment Strategy team has worked with banks and property agents to develop investment guides to its local district centres, highlighting local demographics and available properties. The average vacancy rate for retail frontages in town centres across the borough has fallen for the second year running from a high of 7.5 per cent in 2009/10 to 6.5 per cent in 2011/12.
-          The London Borough of Sutton developed a ‘meanwhile lease’ for previously vacant units. This provides an industry standard legal instrument to minimise administrative and legal costs for both landlords and tenants and to enable temporary occupation to take place without the need for lengthy legal procedures, encouraging new enterprises and bringing innovation and creativity back to the high street.

Dianna Neal added: “Councils are already innovating, but giving boroughs additional  powers and resources would go a long way in really creating the conditions for high streets to succeed – creating much-needed jobs.”

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July 31, 2013