Is The End of The High Road Nigh?

Retail Consortium calls for reform of business rate system

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"After 26 years in Chiswick the recent increases in rent, rates and parking charges have made it impossible for us to retail competitively," said Antony Tropp, owner of Turnham Green Terrace's Sports Centre.

His words are sadly indicative of the the ongoing trend in Chiswick where very few small independent traders are able to survive and the number of empty shops is continuing to rise.

According to the latest figures from the Local Data Company (LDC), vacancy rates climbed from 12% at the end of 2009 to 14.5% at the end of 2010. The report says that fundamental changes in the way we shop are taking place in the UK: ''The very fact that 10 years ago the majority of a multiple retailer's stores were on a high street but now are migrating from the high street into shopping centres and out-of-town shopping parks begs the question of what will fill the high street of 2020 and beyond?"

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation said: "Many high streets will never return to their pre-recession days and, given the structural nature of these changes, the challenge for local authorities is to work with businesses, including retailers and landlords, to sensibly manage this transition and to be creative in looking for new roles and uses for empty shops."

LDC's business development director, Matthew Hopkinson, said: "The sad reality is that the number of vacant shops is increasing, with certain areas of the country severely impacted and unlikely to recover. These high streets will never revert back to what they once were and so the composition of our town centres needs to change to reflect modern shopping needs."

The British Retail Consortium agreed that the situation was worrying and is calling for a "retail-friendly" budget next month, placing the urgent reform of the business rate system at the top of its list of priorities. It said retailers were facing a 4.6% increase in business rates in April on top of the impact of the five-yearly revaluation last year.

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February 15, 2011