Autumn Budget 2018: Is it good news for the high street?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, has announced plans to further support our local high streets by making more public funds available in an effort to rejuvenate town centres.
The government’s ‘Our Plan for the High Street’ has revealed the following key plans:
Retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000 will benefit from a one third cut in business rates for a two year period starting from April 2019.
The reduction to business rates is a temporary relief for many small businesses, but there is certainly still a lot of cynicism as to whether this will have any real effect on the reinvention of the high street.
Whilst providing upfront support to many smaller retailers, there is still concern for the wider retail industry. Over the last few years, we have seen well known retailers reduce their presence within the larger high street stores citing the struggle against high business rates as the main cause for their decline.
There are still calls for a reduction in non-domestic rates bills and a complete overhaul of the business rates regime in general, but these have not been addressed. It remains to be seen if this provisional reduction in business rates will have any long-term impact on improving the state of our high streets.
£675 million will be set aside for the Future High Streets Fund and will be invested in town centre infrastructure, redevelopment and the creation of new workspaces.
Long-term plans are being put in place by the government to allow high streets to evolve with the ever changing needs of the consumer. The Future High Streets Fund (the Fund) is designed to help transform our high streets and inject much needed investment in to reviving town centres. This initiative will be supported by a new High Streets Taskforce which is intended to provide expertise and support to local communities to help with local projects.
There is little information at present as to how the Fund will work in practice. We should hear later this year on the objectives of the Fund, how the Fund will be implemented and the assessment criteria of those projects which will be eligible for funding.
Planning rules could be modernised to allow more flexibility in converting commercial properties in to new mixed-use models.
The government is due to consult on planning rules to support change of use applications of commercial properties to mixed-use spaces. There will also be consultations on how to guide local authorities to use planning tools more effectively.
A register of empty commercial properties is also going to be trialled to help retailers find prospective retail sites, which hopefully will assist in tackling the empty shops that are becoming more and more common on the high street.
Financial support will be given to Historic England to help restore historic buildings
Community assets are at the forefront of trying to entice consumers back to places of interest and in particular our heritage high streets. Providing funding to the upkeep of community assets is hoped to encourage consumers to visit historic destinations and bring life back to our high streets.
Whilst not a quick fix and indeed it is uncertain as to how much of an impact this will have on high street retailers in general, it shows a commitment from the government to try and address the high street situation from all angles.
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