Bid to breathe new life into ailing high streets
SOME 20,000 independent retail firms are at risk on Britain's struggling high streets, a new report will reveal this week.
It comes as Gloucestershire is at the forefront of a pioneering new initiative aimed at breathing fresh life into the traditional retail hubs of the county.
Next week a House of Commons Select Committee considering the previous Mary Portas review on the high street will visit Gloucester for two days.
It is understood members will meet the economic partnership GFirst LEP which has developed a retail planning toolkit and Cirencester is one of the first town's in the country to use it. A diagnostic tool, it identifies a town's "personality" and how this can be used to make the high street more attractive and vibrant.GFirstLEP has been appointed a national retail pathfinder.
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In a separate report to be published this week Bill Grimsey, the former chief executive of Wickes and Iceland, is warning that some 47 per cent of Britain's retail firms are in financial difficulty with around a quarter likely to fail in the next three years.
His self-funded report is due to be presented at a House of Commons reception tomorrow. Retail guru Mary Portas was yesterday quizzed by the Commons select committee about her own review.
But Mr Grimsey has claimed previous reviews have been too "nostalgic." Writing in The Sunday Telegraph he said: "It simply isn't good enough to just wring our hands and reminisce about the good old days."
He said earlier: "We need to get serious about the high street and look at a complete solution to the challenges its faces."
His report will call for a Minister for high streets, together with town centres that incorporate education, arts, residential, leisure and technology facilities as part of a major overhaul.
It also suggests that retailers who open in shops that have been vacant for a year should receive 50 ■ Turn to page 2 ■ From page 1 per cent business rate relief for two years. And councils are urged to use their capital reserves to help fund small businesses.
Earlier this year a report by GFirst LEP, the county's economic partnership, said Cheltenham had 373 shops with an annual retail spend of £768 million. One of its main weaknesses was the road system bisecting the town.
Gloucester has 265 shops with a retail spend of £682 million. It has a lack of substantial retail floor space to attract new retailers. But major investment, including Eastgate Shopping Centre is taking place.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats will call for a local levy of 8.5 per cent to be imposed on superstores outside the city centre with a rateable value of more than £500,000 at a debate at Gloucester City Council on September 12.
Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton said: "Our aim is to help the city centre traders recover from damage done to it by large superstores trading outside the city centre.
"The large out-of-centre stores already benefit from free customer parking while customers visiting city centre stores have to pay to park in city centre car parks.
"If approved we will use the extra £1.260 million income to improve the city centre, reducing vacant retail units and encouraging small independent traders."