Supporting High Streets after COVID-19

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Last week, the House of Commons Committee for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published its report ‘Supporting High Streets after Covid-19’.

Our partners at the BRC gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry and we’re pleased to see some of those recommendations echoed in their report.

The report made a number of recommendations across a range of areas that are intended to support the recovery of high streets and town centres post-Covid. Two of these which the BRC particularly supports are:

  • To reduce and streamline the different funding pots available to local areas for town centre investment. The Towns Fund, the Levelling Up Fund and others require councils to competitively bid for relatively small-scale, time-limited regeneration funding. We agree with the Committee that this funding, whilst welcome, should be larger, longer-term and more coherently awarded; and
  • The permitted development (PD) right to convert retail (and other) uses into residential could have a detrimental effect on town centre viability – we are pleased that the Committee agreed with the BRC’s submission on this point. The PD right must be kept under review with its impacts carefully assessed.

The Committee made many more recommendations that the BRC supports, calling on the Government to:

  • Conduct a full lessons learned review that specifically examines the impact of the handling of the pandemic at central and local government level on the short- and long-term health of high streets and town centres;
  • Publish annually a list of which areas have strategies for their high streets and town centres and when they were last updated;
  • Consider what further steps it can take to support markets and local heritage to build back better high streets;
  • Review the size and remit of the High Streets Task Force as soon as possible, with a view to increasing its budget;
  • Set out its plan for when the 50% discount for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses comes to an end after a year, such as a permanent reduction in the multiplier; and
  • Consider how businesses in a downward property market can reach a stage where they are paying the correct business rate more quickly than is currently the case.

A number of other recommendations were made across a range of areas such as skills and transport. On the whole, the report is a helpful contribution to the debate over the future of our high streets and town centres.

You can read and download the report here