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Shop vacancies not just about recession

Town centres can have a bright future but they need to be actively planned, managed and nurtured.

Stephen Robertson British Retail Consortium Director General said: "It’s good to see closure rates now slowing in some towns though a lot of our high streets are in a bad way after the recession.

"But, many of the problems of town centres have more fundamental causes than simply the economic slowdown and they will not disappear just because recovery is underway.

"High street shops are often battling big bills for business rates and rents, parking and access difficulties, as well as failure to manage and invest in the area.

"High streets are the heart of local communities and economies – providing jobs and essential services. Their future success cannot be left to chance. Town centres need to be actively managed by local authorities with their retailers, other businesses and residents."

The BRC’s report 21st Century High Streets: A new vision for our town centres sets out a twenty-point plan for securing the long-term future of town centre retailing. Key recommendations include:

Economic health – Curing ill health is easier than reviving the dead. There should be a careful programme of economic health monitoring, especially for town centres approaching ‘tipping points’.

Public spaces – Town centres need good design, making the most of heritage features or natural surroundings to create a unique sense of place. Then they must be very well maintained.

Crime – Real priority must be given to deterring all forms of retail crime and anti-social behaviour. To prevent a downward spiral, damaged property must be restored quickly.

Costs – High streets need central Government backing. There must be no new property and business rate burdens and a responsible and inclusive approach from local authorities to the money they raise and spend.

Access – Parking and transport policy should be directed at providing a service to customers and retailers, not exploited as a local authority fund raiser.

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