Added on: 25th February, 2019 by O1
A report released last week by House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has urged action for town centres, made a number of recommendations which Orpington 1st have been pushing for, and put BIDs at the heart of its proposals.
A comprehensive report 'High Streets & Town Centres in 2030' proposes a series of actions required from central government, retailers and landlords in town centres across the country.
It suggested urgent action is needed now to transform and find a new focus for town centres, which should be a focus for social interaction at the heart of the community. Orpington's strong hospitality and service offer stands us in good stead to realise this.
It also stressed the importance of strong local leadership and cross-sector collaboration in order to bring about this change, emphasising the opportunities brought about by the establishment of BIDs.
The High Street Fund, which the Orpington 1st team are discussing with LBB, was endorsed, but with recommendation that additional funding from new business taxation be used to add to the Fund.
Other key suggestions which chime with Orpington 1st's vision for transformation of town centre legislation included:
-Support for the Treasury Committee examination of Business Rates but with proposals to government to consider decreasing complexity.
-That government should consider how an online sales tax would work.
-A comprehensive planning review as far as it relates to town centres should be undertaken, reviewing Compulsory Purchase Orders, Use Classes, and Permitted Development Rights.
-Local dynamic strategies for town centres should be adopted and reviewed regularly. Strategies must be based on the distinctive nature of the place.
-A national BID Register should be established by government and a census of place partnerships should be undertaken.
-Place partnerships should be established where they are absent.
-Establish a national local authority-wide network of BIDs and encourage knowledge, expertise and resource sharing.
-Support a government review of community involvement in BIDs.
-Retailers should work with landowners, local authorities and BIDs if they are considering closing a store.
-Retailers should review store opening hours to reflect demand.
-Government should commission research on why some shops remain vacant.
-Landlords should work more closely with local partnerships.
-Review should be commissioned of Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 Part II.
-Government should consult on upward only rent reviews.
Four systemic issues were identified as exacerbating the challenge for town centres: too much retail space, fragmented ownership, high fixed costs for retailers through rents and business rates, and business taxation.
The report highlights the importance of strong leadership and collaboration. The report acknowledges that whilst this leadership would previously have come from the local authority, partnerships are now essential to ensure the right decisions were taken. Business Improvement Districts are best placed to fill this partnership role.
Jo Johnson MP pledged support for any application to the HSF made by LBB with Orpington 1st
It is these strong local partnerships that can develop and implement the transformation that our town centres need, says the report.
Land acquisition and investment in the public realm will be necessary, and recognising that local authorities face funding gaps, the report welcomes the announcement of the High Street Fund and emphasises that evidence of strong local leadership should be a key criteria of how bids are assessed.
The BID team have repeatedly joined forces with BID colleagues to represent Orpington businesses on the subject of Business Rates
As lobbied for persistently by Orpington 1st and fellow Business Improvement Districts, the report also calls for consideration to be given by government to alternatives to business rates so that the unfairness evident for high street based businesses is addressed. It heard various proposals and wants them considered by the government before October 2019. It further recommends that any revenue raised through an online sales tax should be used to support high streets, including by extending the High Street Fund and funding a 12 month rates holiday from increases caused by investment.
Amongst recommendations the report makes to government on planning is that the Compulsory Purchase Order process will be reviewed, noting that delays are often encountered. It also asks government to review whether the Town Centre First policy should be updated to include activities other than retail. In light of the changing role of town centres, this would seem a sensible consideration.
It also calls for a bolder review and complete rewrite of the 1987 Use Class Orders. In the meantime, though it sees advantages in more flexible planning, the report calls for the suspension of any further extension of Permitted Development Rights pending evaluation of their impact on town centres - another subject on which Business Improvement Districts have continued to lobby government.
The rapidity of change is highlighted and the report suggests local plans need continuous review and adjustment. Town centre strategies should be embedded in the place, based on its unique characteristics.
The report concludes that a truly collective vision will be hard to achieve in areas where effective place partnerships do not exist. It calls on government to maintain a register of BIDs and undertake a census of place partnerships to identify gaps (something the Institute had proposed in its evidence to the Committee). It further suggests the importance of a national BIDs network, including the proposal that BIDs could support each other. The report heard evidence of a greater need for community involvement in BIDs, something which Orpington 1st already practices, having strong links with a number of community organisations and engaged residents.
Emphasis was placed on the importance of creating experience, both in retail and in town centres, and the need for town centres to be more convenient, with opening hours reviewed and click and collect exploited.
Read the full report here