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An Overview Of The Mary Portas Review - Legislation and Landlords

Samuel Thompson - Saturday, February 04, 2012

Closed Shop —( ‘Closed’, with thanks to chrisinplymouth )— This is the fourth part of my summary of the Portas Review. Here we’ll look at the legal issues and property complications mentioned in the report and how they affect the high street. If you’ve missed the other sections of this overview you can find the first post here.

Legislation and complication

Red tape is rife on the high street. Even large retailers have told me that they’re put off town centre locations because of the red tape – and they’re the people with an infrastructure and bank account to deal with it.

Although there have been a number of attempts – both at a government and a local level – to simplify the process of setting up and running a business on the high street, the scales are still firmly tipped against the average local business.

All the small things

Too often the voice of the few inhibits the ambitions of our businesses and some small issue can stop a project in its tracks

Whether it’s unnecessary noise restrictions or crippling restrictions on delivery times, seemingly minor complications can cause disproportionate levels of disruption to the easy running of a business.

Often the hoops that need jumping through take up resources and time that a business owner can’t afford to spare.

The planning process

The planning system is too susceptible to those who can afford an army of lawyers and the costs can put off those with legitimate appeals, as a recent study found out. There seems to be an imbalance in the planning system which we need to address.

Getting planning permission for a new development on the high street can be a serious trial in terms of patience, time and money. Out-of-town developments, by contrast, can seem much simpler to push through, especially for bigger players.

One issue that the report focused on was the question of the ‘use class’. Under current legislation some location and building types require planning permission before being converted, whereas other do not. This has seemingly led to a glut of similar businesses on certain high streets – the proliferation of betting shops, for example, is flagged as a negative trend for the look and feel of a high street.

Parking troubles

Cars are an intrinsic part of the way many people shop and so many of our high streets simply aren’t catering for our 21st century shoppers.

While out-of-town developments offer enormous car parking facilities, high streets tend to cause headaches for those looking to park nearby. Considering how many people use their car to get around – or to lug home their shopping – a lack of parking facilities or access can be enough reason to abandon the high street.

Even in those areas where parking is available, it is often by far too expensive or inconveniently placed. This can be an issue both for the business owners themselves and their customers.

Landlords and rates

One of the biggest turns-offs for a highstreet visitor is the sight of empty shops, especially when those premises are run-down. This leads to a catch-22 situation, whereby a few empty store-fronts lead to fewer customers, which in turn leads to closures and more empty buildings.

Where are all the local landlords?

One of the biggest problems with our high streets is that properties are owned by a diverse set of people – from private holders to overseas investors, large corporations, and banks. Sometimes, these landlords are ‘absent’ and frankly have no interest in or knowledge of local needs.

Absence may make the heart grow fond, but distance can be a terrible thing. While the negative effects of empty buildings can be many for a local community, for the landlords it’s often just another property which they may be in no rush to find a tenant for.

It’s not always obvious, as well, who in fact owns the land. For those landlords with little or no stake in an area this lack of accountability can lead to buildings lying dormant for years, despite the fact that it’s in the landlord's interest to keep the highstreet buzzing in order to maximize the value of the properties situated in the area.

The cost of renting a premises too is often a stumbling block for businesses, especially for those in their early stages. While rates soar and profits fall a presence on the high street becomes less and less viable.

Thus far we've had a look at the Report's analysis of the issues affecting the high street. Next up we'll be taking a look at Portas' recommendations for how to address these problems.

If there's something big that I've missed or you disagree with this summary please make your point known in the comments section below. Until the next post!

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