We have ongoing discussions with the Local Data Company and their assertion that 30.6% of our shops are empty. I blogged about it here.
Experian have suggested that the figure is 18.1% – which is probably a closer reflection. The Local Data Company stretch the definition of City Centre to a lot of the outlying suburbs. We have a plan to deal with this and try to properly reflect the position – more on that soon I hope!
What we cannot escape though is that we have too many shops.
Vacant shops don’t help Cities. They create gappy teeth in a street scene and ‘dead frontage’ (as it is known) is not at all good. It takes a few in a row to bring a whole area down.
So we have a few choices – we can either take the shops out of use (and there is some new Planning legislation to do this) and into another use. Or we can try to encourage new shops to spring up. I had a fantastic meeting a few weeks ago with Pop Up Britain – who seek to do this. They put temporary uses into places – often local people selling local goods. Again we hope to have some of these in Nottingham soon.
But there is another initiative launched last week by the City Council – in the form of grant aid to bring ‘out of repair’ shops back to a lettable standard.
The Vacant Shops Grant will be available to Landlords of up to £5,000 to improve the condition a shop.
This is a great idea – and a really positive step to take.
Day 2. The Big Picture – do we really get it?
If I’m honest – probably not. I have a fear that Nottingham doesn’t see beyond the end of its nose. It thinks that it has always been the Queen of the East Midlands and therefore always will be. This is dangerous complacency. Especially when you see the progress our two neighbouring cities are making. Derby and Leicester may be the underdog of old, but we have steadily watched them creep up on us. If we’re not careful they will overtake us.
We are slipping. Especially in the important area of shopping. The Westfield sale to CSC of Broad Marsh Centre hasn’t helped us. It has probably set us back 10 years. This isn’t entirely a fault of the City management – it’s a combination of a woeful Planning organisation a few years ago with a collapse in the property market.
So what is the big picture – well it’s a place that people want to live, work and play in. Live in great neighbourhoods, work in rewarding places and play in safety. Play includes all leisure activities – including shopping!
We have started to make some progress in improving the infrastructure – including the tram and transport generally. But the costs of getting around on that system are too expensive. Parking costs in the city are nothing short of outrageous. I frequently pay £9 to park – this is a joke. We need to encourage visitors. Evening parking should be free. Not a charge to pay for the traffic wardens who patrol the streets.
We need to increase the tourist offer – and this is the greatest crime of all. We own Robin Hood. And we own Nottingham Castle – home of the Sheriff of Nottingham. So why don’t we use them? The Castle is a shambles – a poor cafe and a sad exhibition. The Cave tour is pathetic.
But, we do know that Robin Hood isn’t enough on his own….
Part 3 tomorrow… our story?
You might have started to notice a proliferation of Charity Shops on our High Streets. It isn’t, in my view a good sign. Our measure of aspirational shopping – which leads to a feel-good factor doesn’t normally include Oxfam and the like. I have nothing against these shops – they do serve a purpose – but there is a point at which they can destroy a street-scene.
One of the reasons we have seen the growth is not necessarily them selling ‘cheap’ goods – although that does have a part to play in the current economic climate. There is another reason – landlords are pay full business rates on empty commercial properties, but charities using commercial property for charitable purposes qualify for an 80% automatic discount on business rates – plus a discretionary further discount of 20%.
This clearly can be a good deal for the landlord – and likewise for the Charity tenant. Despite the Governments contention that the removal of empty rate relief encourages landlords not to leave premises vacant we all know that this is rubbish. My landlord clients don’t wait for a rising market – they do deals with people who come along.
But something interesting has now happened. The Charity Commission is investigating over 700 deals between charities and landlords where concerns have been raised by local authorities that the properties appear to be unoccupied and that the arrangements may constitute business rates avoidance. This is because we have seen a new phenomena. This is where the Charity make an approach and offer to ‘take’ the premises with some form of sharing – i.e. the landlord pays the Charity (because anything less than the Rates bill is a saving!). They don’t occupy they simply pocket the cash.
The Charity Commission are now saying that they will look closely at these ‘arrangements’ and the Charities might fall foul of the law.
The angle taken is to see that Charities are not being taken advantage of by business…
This I find rather amusing – my dealings with Charities suggest that some (not all) of them know precisely the position they occupy and use it to further their interests. Fair? – I’m not sure. But this little loophole might now get closed – and with it comes more misery for landlords and more vacant shops on the High Street.
We can all see the way in which retailers are currently headed. It is reckoned that there are over a dozen High Street names who are ‘at risk’ of failure. Their December Quarters rents are shortly due – unless that have made arrangements to shift payments to monthly frequencies.
This week Mary Portas is expected to publish a report tomorrow on the state of retailing – and her plan to get it to recover from the doldrums.
It is understood the report covers the issues about out-of-town shopping centres vs. In-town. You don’t have to be a planning expert to what these out of town centres have done to our Cities. They offer huge choice, easy access and generally free parking. That you can drive your car to shop door is seen as a high advantage. When they started this was all about ‘big box’ goods – but not so any more.
Of course the Supermarkets have followed suit; the latest stores are the size of most neighbourhoods. They too rely on you parking next to the store.
It is suggested that Mary Portas will address this issue – and either suggest a levelling of the playing fields – in suggesting out of town charge for parking (which sounds unlikely!) or – Cities should stop looking at parking as a revenue stream. This too looks to be challenging – especially in an era of financial austerity. But there is a point here. In the last week or so I have spent a large sum in Nottingham’s car parks. The minimum charge in the centre is now £3.50 I followed a lady who was tutting about her £11.00 charge!
We have to find ways of making our centre’s attractive = the alternative is they will decline very quickly. My view is that it is a slippery slope – and we are atop it at the moment.
I have little hope in Nottingham though – if you go to a meeting at the City Council now – you get charged £4.00 to park at Loxley House.