UK becoming a country of ghost towns: Think tank calls for overhaul of town planning rules to allow high streets to thrive
Britain will become a ‘country of ghost towns’ unless High Street planning laws are reformed, a report has suggested.
Decades of inaction from councils has left many high streets as ‘dead zones’, according to the research by the Adam Smith Institute.
Town centres must be freed of rigid planning rules and opened up to a mix of homes, offices and leisure activities to allow high streets to thrive, the report by the think-tank said.
The Adam Smith Institute said town centres must be freed of rigid planning rules and opened up to a mix of homes, offices and leisure activities to allow high streets to thrive
The findings came as former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis, whose empire includes Robert Dyas and the Boux Avenue lingerie chain, said this was the ‘most challenging retail environment’ in memory.
Echoing the Mail’s Save Our High Streets campaign, he said: ‘The lack of reform and focus on business rates by the Government and other authorities continues to frustrate us and puts at risk one of the key sectors for the UK economy.’
The Adam Smith Institute said shoppers should be able to find yoga and dance studios situated underneath residential apartments and alongside the usual array of supermarkets and pharmacies.
The size of the area where stores are concentrated should be increased to prevent shops, offices and homes being clumped into separate areas.
The changes would also make retail space more competitive, lowering prices, and boosting shops’ financial prospects.
Crisis: Former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis said this was the ‘most challenging retail environment’ in memory
Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: ‘High streets have become soulless and empty, and we risk creating a country of ghost towns. Our one-size-fits-all planning rules don’t fit anyone or anywhere. We need to encourage the dynamic use of high streets and mixed-use retail, residential and commercial across towns if the Government is to revitalise forgotten communities.’
Earlier this week boss of department chain Beales, Tony Brown, said ‘councils don’t really care’ about shops. He said he had struggled to get temporary relief from the business rates bills that were crippling his firm, which was founded in 1881.
As shoppers move online, and retailers struggle against the rising cost of rents, rates and staff, companies, landlords and town planners have been searching for a new model for high streets.
Some have embraced a reduction in red tape around planning as a way to keep shops occupied with activities such as exercise classes and escape rooms moving on to the High Street.
Last year 44 stores a day were shut, with 140,000 jobs lost, as the High Street suffered its worst year in a quarter of a century. Mothercare, LK Bennett and Karen Millen fell into administration leading to closures.
The British Retail Consortium said it was the first year retail sales declined since their records began in 1995.