Pub and casual dining groups have welcomed plans from retail guru Mary Portas to strengthen the high street, as part of her report on the issue, published today. But they warned that restaurants and pubs should not be forgotten in the equation.
Portas's recommendations included: improve the management of high streets with new "town teams"; making town centre car parking more affordable; adopting a "town centre first" approach to planning; creating disincentives for landlords who leave shops empty; and creating greater inclusion of the high steet in neighbourhood planning.
Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said: "Pubs, bars and casual dining outlets are a vital ingredient in the mix that is Britain's high streets and must not be forgotten in this equation.
"We welcome the fact that a number of these proposals should benefit these types of retailers and help achieve David Cameron's vision for vibrant and diverse town centres.
"In particular, we welcome the recommendation to look at the ‘Use Class' system and step up the focus on Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Looking at the concept of ‘community wellbeing' in the future make-up of high streets is also one championed by the ALMR."
Meanwhile, the British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds also welcomed the report. "If we want to encourage people back to the high street then thriving pubs must be part of the mix," she said.
"There are some good ideas that would help pubs - we certainly need action on punitive business rates, and a more flexible planning system to help pubs to be part of a high street revival. I am pleased to see an enhanced role proposed for Business Improvement Districts, something we have championed at the BBPA.
"We need more flexibility in the Use Class Orders, looking at amalgamating the leisure classes and greater flexibility between C1 (Hotels) and C3 (Dwelling Houses).
But Mark Charlton, head of research and forecasting at property firm Colliers International, said Portas's recommendations ignored the changing shopping habits of the consumer.
"These recommendations are trying to shift or reverse well established consumer shopping habits that have developed over the last 10 years and more - to out of town, supermarkets, full service retail and leisure destinations and more latterly online and mobile shopping. For some towns this will be impossible.
"The issue revolves around where people shop now and in the future and how this impacts on retailer demand in specific town centres. The idea of Town Teams is a good initiative as long as there is the necessary collaboration between local authorities, landlords, retailers, banks and developers. However, it does raise the question of who is going to foot the bill."
Paul Moody, head of retail agency at Colliers International, added: "The suggestion that landlords and banks who have repossessed are deliberately sitting on empty units is ridiculous. This is usually a function of weak demand and/or the unit being of the wrong size to meet current requirements. Landlords want to have fully let units as they want to generate income and investment return. In many cases these units may belong to our pension funds. Empty units are already penalised through empty rates."
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