Posted: Thu 22nd Jul 2021
With retail and hospitality among the hardest-hit sectors during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has set out its plans for supporting high streets, cafes, pubs and restaurants.
In his foreword to a 37-page document detailing a strategy for boosting Britain's shopping districts, prime minister Boris Johnson said: "Successive governments have, with the best of intentions, sought to support our high streets by pretending that the 21st century hasn’t happened, propping them up and sitting Canute-like as the waves of changing habits and online retail lap around their ankles.
"We’re doing things differently. Rather than attempting to force the toothpaste back into the tube, we’re accepting that the world has changed and giving our high streets the freedom they need to change with it."
Among the measures in the strategy document are:
Relaxed al-fresco dining to be made permanent
Rules allowing restaurants and cafes to serve customers outside were relaxed due to the coronavirus restrictions. The government said this streamlined licensing system will be extended for 12 months in England, with an intention to make it permanent.
Takeaway pints can also continue for another 12 months with the extension of rules for the off-site sales of alcohol.
Space for hospitality start-ups
Local councils to turn unused high street spaces into places from where new food and drink businesses can trade. The government said it will work with councils and the hospitality sector to develop "hospitality-led regeneration hubs, with demonstrators delivered in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales".
Encouraging green travel
To encourage more cycling and walking with segregated cycle lanes on main roads and expanded space for pedestrians, the government will select 12 non-London local authority areas to receive funding to take part in "mini-Holland schemes".
Tackling litter, graffiti and gum staining
The document says: "We recognise that a clean environment is good for our wellbeing, and good for the economy – and that delivering this on high streets is a vital part of delivering this ambition as well as contributing to our vision of building green, clean, high streets which attract visitors and make them feel safe and welcome, increasing footfall and appetite for new business."
The government said it will review planning practice guidance in relation to litter, particularly when it comes to rubbish outside fast food outlets, and chewing gum producers will invest up to £10m in a scheme that provides financial support to councils for removing gum litter and staining.
New guidance on tackling graffiti for local authorities and business owners will be published and £2m in funding will be allowed for "councils to fight back against the menace of graffiti".
Communities will be encouraged to help clean their local area on a new National High Streets Day.
Community Ownership Fund
Alongside the high street strategy, the government published more details of a new fund that helps local communities take over businesses such as pubs, theatres and post offices to stop them before sold for development. Communities can borrow up to £250,000 in matched funding through the £150m scheme.
The application form for the Community Ownership Fund is here.
As the High Streets Strategy was released, the government confirmed £335m for 15 new Town Deals in England. Projects include repurposing empty shops, creating new public spaces, transforming a riverfront area into a community hub with entertainment and leisure venues, and creating a new digital enterprise and learning centre. Town Deals have been offered to all 101 places that were invited to develop proposals.
Transforming derelict buildings
Councils in England will give the power to take over derelict buildings through compulsory purchase orders so they can be converted into new homes if property owners stall on regeneration plans. Councils will also be encouraged to use existing powers to convert empty offices into housing, and empty shops can be turned into entertainment venues or other new businesses without the need for planning permission.
An alternative strategy
Retail veteran Bill Grimsey also released his own high street strategy this week. He warned thousands of small shops could close due to the debt they've taken on to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. His report called for that debt to be written off by the government.
His other recommendations include major reform of business rates with a retail sales tax in its place and more focus on supporting independents and encouraging experiences so that more shoppers return to their local high streets.
He also criticised the government's Levelling Up approach as "creating left behind towns through a winners and losers approach".
See all of Bill Grimsey's recommendations here.
What do you think of the government's strategy and Bill Grimsey's report? If you're running a high street business, will either approach help you? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Email Dan.