High streets need to be shorter to survive, urges minister

Save Britain’s High Streets by making them SHORTER: Communities secretary James Brokenshire wants parking charges slashed and empty shops turned into housing

  • James Brokenshire said town centres across the country are ‘feeling the strain’ 
  • Shoppers are buying clothes and gifts online rather than supporting local shops
  • He says declining town centres must become centre of new ‘smart’ communities
  • Wants town halls to shrink high streets by surrendering empty outlets to housing

Communities secretary James Brokenshire is pictured leaving 10 Downing Street yesterday

High streets must get shorter in length and taller to survive, the communities secretary declared last night.

James Brokenshire said town centres across the country are ‘feeling the strain’ as shoppers buy their clothes and gifts online rather than support local shops.

He said declining town centres need to become the centre of new ‘smart’ communities, providing services people cannot just do at home such as cafes and doctors’ surgeries, as he warned that it may be too late to ‘turn the tide’ against online shopping.

He called on town halls to allow ‘sprawling’ high streets to become more ‘compact’ by surrendering empty outlets on their edges to housing, ensuring greater footfall for the businesses that remain.

And he suggested councils consider building extra floors above shops to provide more housing there.

Speaking to the Mail, the minister said: ‘Britons are the world leaders in shopping online but these rapid changes in consumer behaviour come at a price and the great British high street is feeling the strain. 

The minister urged town halls to allow ‘sprawling’ high streets to become more ‘compact’ by surrendering empty outlets on their edges to housing. Pictured: Boarded up shops in Rochdale

‘Trying to turn the clock back and turn the tide against greater digital by default isn’t the answer. We need to rethink what our high streets can be at the heart of new ‘smart’ communities… We need to promote activities, services, experiences which connect people and which you just can’t do sitting at home.

‘Some long, sprawling high streets could be reinvigorated by creating more compact centres with more people living alongside and above shops.

‘Communities themselves are best placed to make these decisions but unnecessary red tape shouldn’t stand in the way. That’s why we’ve brought in changes to make it easier to build up above shops and get more housing at the very heart of our communities.’

Some stores have blamed their struggles on the business rates system, which they say penalises them while online competitors such as Amazon pay very little.

This is because rates are set on rental value which are high for high-street premises but low for the warehouses which Amazon uses.

Mr Brokenshire said the Government was pumping £13billion in business rate support and that planning rules had been overhauled to make it easier to create new homes. He said the Government’s Open Doors project will bring empty retail properties back into use for community groups and that ministers have opened a £675million Future High Streets Fund in a bid to ensure high streets are the best place to shop, meet friends and access vital services.

Mr Brokenshire also urged town halls to stop stinging drivers with high parking fees, which push people to out-of-town centres where there is often free parking.

He praised a council in Kent which saw footfall rise after it lowered charges. ‘Councillors in Ashford saw a surge in shoppers in their town centre after they cut parking fees and put on popular public events to encourage people back to the high street,’ he said. 

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