Bradfordia is a few weeks behind everyone else, largely because its a new blog, but the Mary Portas review into the High Street was big news at the start of December. That said, the Government aren't publishing their response until the Spring. The review contains 28 of Ms Portas' recommendations to save the High Street, the impact of a celebrity figure somewhat trumps the '100 Ways to Help the High Street' published by, amongst others, the Association of Town Centre Managers. But its time to do what others were doing over a month ago and analysing the Portas Review, but from a Bradford City Centre perspective.
Many people will look to Westfield and the delays over the construction of the new shopping centre as one of the issues that impacts on retail in the City Centre. Mary Portas should come to Bradford and look at this, though there may be a conflict of interest with her work for Westfield.
1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets - Town Teams have been successful in other towns and cities, such as Scarborough, to bring a range of different people around the table and to find creative ways to improve their centre.
2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs” - Not relevant to Bradford now, but a BID might be something to look at in the future. Preston is an example of a BID which has made improvements to the City Centre 'offer'.
3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District - As above
4. Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business - Not sure how successful a 'National Market Day' would be, but there is lots of space in Bradford which could be used on a trial basis for budding retailers.
5. Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not - Unaware of how difficult it is to obtain a Market Trading Permit - and is it really fair to call regulations unnecessary?
6. Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers - This is something that can't be controlled on a local basis, but rates are often cited as a barrier to entry for independent retailers.
7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses - A Rate Relief Fund will be rolled out in Bradford to support businesses who commit to employing and training local people.
8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI - CPI is forecast to be a lower and more steady rate of growth than RPI.
9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table - Difficult to see how this would work in practice? If every city centre had free parking, it wouldn't give Bradford a competitive advantage over them. It would still be difficult for the city centre to compete with out of town sites, due to the scarcity of parking and traffic issues. A review of car parking provision and more favourable charges to entice car based customers could work.
10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe - This is what Town Teams in towns and cities that have them do anyway. It would certainly be a good thing for the city centre.
11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape Some of these regulations will be absolute necessary, others less so but are still in place for a reason.
12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street If this is a genuine issue stopping investment into the city centre, then it should be changed. The city centre already has a lot of Betting Shops and Amusement Arcades, so the 'use class' hasn't been a barrier to these, plus in the Planning system it is impossible to differentiate between a high quality and low quality end user.
13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own - This is particularly pertinent to Bradford, though the 'horse may have already bolted'. Betting Shops are currently in the same 'Use Class' as banks and estate agents (Class A2). Since the gambling licensing laws were changed, more and more betting shops have taken advantage of vacant Class A2 shop units.
14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework - National Planning Policy has contained a presumption in favour of town centre development since the 1990s.
15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off ” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota - The Secretary of State has to oversee most out of town retail developments. Its difficult to see how an affordable shops quota in out of town locations would help city centres, especially ones such as Bradford where there is a high proportion of existing vacant stock.
16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers - Difficult to understand what this would mean in practice, but they should all be working together as part of 'town team' or in city centre partnership.
17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report - What will this mean in reality and who will actually read the annual reports?
18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses - This is something that could well help lower the number of vacant promises in the city centre.
19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant - You would have thought not receiving rent and having to pay business rates was an incentive to get a tenant in, so what are these issues that make landlords leave units vacant?
20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them - Not sure what the extent of this problem is in Bradford.
21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space - Not sure how this would work in Bradford.
22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders” - Define negligent? Are properties empty in Bradford because of this, or just because of market forces?
23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords -It would mean people would know who to hold to account if properties were 'neglected'
24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans - Difficult to see how Bradford, a city of many neighbourhoods, would have plans that impacted on the city centre.
25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans - As above.
26. Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system - Developers have to make contributions towards transport and the provision of infrastructure, there is a danger of asking too much of them.
27. Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try” - Letting out vacant properties at a discounted rate on a trial basis would be a good thing in the City Centre, but how would it work out in the long term?
28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept - And if Bradford could get something from Central Government for this, why not?