Editor: The extension to business rates relief, a VAT freeze and restart grants provide much-needed respite for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.
But the government must go further to help high streets transition in these changing times. This is essential to preserving their role in community building and creating a sense of place.
High streets give our towns and cities character. We need to evolve their place in communities and not just for economic reasons. They are where people of all ages come together to eat, shop and socialise, unlocking social value and boosting local tourism.
Shopping habits have shifted during the pandemic. Ecommerce has boomed and we should embrace the inevitable change. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create a more level playing field for successful bricks-and-mortar outlets, giving people a reason to leave their homes and visit.
A business rates review is under way with an online sales tax mooted to shore up lost revenue from reform. But with the treasury not due to report until autumn, we’ll have to wait to see what’s decided and wait even longer to understand the implications. That is time that many businesses might not have.
In the interim, the property industry must play a more proactive role. A healthy line-up of occupiers is vital to bring mixed-use estates to life. Moving towards a variable rent model will help hospitality operators to thrive. Asset and estates managers should do more to market destinations and work with tenants to adapt to changing consumer behaviour, whether that is bringing in more experiential offers or using stores to support online sales.
The property industry must help steer our high streets through stormy waters. Let’s make sure they are set up to meet modern consumer needs and don’t fall further victim to the economic impact of Covid-19.
Harry Fenner, chief executive, Navana Property Group