Fourteen urban shopping sites around England that will each receive cash injections worth up to £25million from the Government were announced. And in a sign of the new Tory priority to redirect investment into former Labour heartland territory, nine of the communities to benefit from the fund were in the North of England while a further three were in the Midlands. Cheadle, Hartlepool, Ellesmere Port and Preston will be among the Northern sites to benefit from the cash.
The investment will come from a £3.6billion “Towns Fund” for rejuvenating town and city centres which includes £1billion earmarked for “future high streets”.
Last night’s announcement follows spectacular gains by the Tories in breaching the so-called Labour “Red Wall” strongholds in the Midlands and the North at the general election earlier this month.
Mr Johnson has vowed his Government will repay the trust of millions of voters who backed the Tories for the first time by prioritising investment in local infrastructure in those regions.
Announcing the 14 sites to benefit from the scheme last night, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This Government is investing £3.6 billion in our great towns, including £1 billion to help our high streets to adapt and evolve while remaining vibrant and safe places at the heart of our communities.
“Having announced the first 101 high streets that can benefit from £25 million each back in the summer, I am announcing support from our new High Streets Task Force for a further 20 places and naming 14 of these today.
“The Task Force will provide the tools they need to get the best advice possible and a dashboard of key local data.
“Central to the mission of this new government is levelling up towns and regions, ensuring prosperity and opportunity are available to everyone.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick
“Over the course of 2020, we will invest hundreds of millions into projects to transform our town centres and support bespoke plans to meet the needs of individual local communities.”
In total, 20 town and city centres will benefit from extra Government investment in the initial “pilot” phase of the Future High Streets Fund initiative.
On top of the 14 announced last night, a further six will be identified in the New Year.
Eventually, 101 sites are expected to benefit from the drive to rejuvenate local shopping centres.
The Northern sites to benefit from the scheme announced last night were Swinton town centre in Salford, Cheadle, Accrington, South Lakeland in Kendal, Frigate in Preston, Ellesmere Port, Hartlepool, Huyton in Knowsley and Withington in Manchester.
In the Midlands, the sites to benefit will be Stirchley in Birmingham, Coventry City Centre and West Bromwich Town Centre.
West Bromwich East, the constituency formerly represented by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, was won by the Tories in one of the totemic results on election night.
Just two sites in the South East of England will benefit from the funding announced last night. They are Thornton Heath in Croydon and Aldershot.
A new High Streets Task Force, headed by business leader Sir John Timpson, will work with local council leaders to decide how to invest the cash.
The £3.6 billion Towns Fund was announced in July, with councils invited to bid for a share of the cash.
Jake Berry, the minister in charge of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, said: “Every place has its own unique strengths and challenges but all our town centres and high streets have one thing in common – they are the lifeblood of communities.
“The tailored support from our new High Streets Task Force and up to £25 million each from the Towns Fund for 100 places gives communities the money and support they need to unleash the potential of their towns. “This people’s government is backing people across the Northern Powerhouse and every part of the UK to succeed no matter where they live.”
In another move, the Government will launch a public consultation exercise today [Monday] to gauge potential support for an online register of commercial properties.
The proposal is aimed at making it easier to bring empty shops back into use.
Ministers want to hear people’s experiences of leasing commercial property with a view to making ownership of high street properties more transparent.
The Government is also already committed to helping high street shops by cutting small retailers’ business rates bills by 50 percent from April.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The High Street Task Force, run by the Institute for Place Management on behalf of Government, is seeking to recruit a chairman to provide expert leadership to this programme.
It will bring together a range of expert groups to discuss reinventing and restructuring shopping centre, including the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Design Council.
The retail crisis engulfing Britain’s embattled high streets led to 16,073 shops – about 61 every working day – pulling down their shutters for the final time during 2019, new research has found.
During 2019, large retailers with 10 or more stores closed 5,901 shops, a leap of 79 percent on the 3,303 stores that they closed in 2018, according to the Centre for Retail Research’s “retail in crisis” end-of-year report.
Independent retailers, while still closing 10,172 stores, fared slightly better, with closures down nearly 10 percent compared with the 11,280 shops they closed in 2018.
Overall the total number of shops pulling down their shutters for the final time rose by 1,490 during 2019, up from the 14,583 shops closed in 2018.
Professor Joshua Bamfield, director at the Centre for Retail Research, anticipates another tough year ahead for high streets, forecasting that store closures will rise by about 9 percent to 17,565 during 2020.
Mothercare is one of the major chains which went into administration in 2019
He said: “The commercial pressures of higher labour costs, business rates and relatively weak demand will continue to undercut profits and force the weakest companies to close stores or enter administration.
“The high street and suburbs will continue to decline.”
Major chains including Debenhams, Bon Marche, Mothercare, Clintons, Select Fashion, Karen Millen, Jack Wills and Bathstore all went into administration in 2019.
Prof Bamfield added: “In 2020 further announcements from companies that have already gone through CVAs or administration may well result in cutbacks on their existing operations.”
The Government will extend the retail discount on business rates to 50 percent next year in England, up from 33 percent during 2019/20, to try to stem closures while committing to launching a fundamental review of the tax.
Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at the real estate adviser Altus Group, said: “Whilst just 10 percent of retail properties in England are over £51,000 in rateable value, and precluded from the discount, they still pick up 69 percent of the business rates burden for the entire retail sector.”