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News in brief: Ashley pronounces high street ‘dead’; England and Wales lose 43 million square metres of retail space

Words: Huw Morris
High street / Shutterstock_202926589

A round-up of planning news: Tuesday 4 December, 2018

Ashley pronounces high street ‘dead’

The high street is dead, according to the owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser.

Mike Ashley told MPs the internet is “killing the high street” and predicted that “outside of London, it’s going to be a ghost town”.

He called for a new tax to resuscitate town centres, which should be imposed on operators who make more than 20 per cent of their turnover online.

“The mainstream high street as we think about it today – not the Oxford Streets and the Westfields – is already dead,” he told the Commons housing, communities and local government committee. “They can’t survive.”

He said the high street “has to change what it offers consumers”, while many stores are struggling with “prehistoric rents” which had put retailers into a “downward death spiral”.

“The high street won’t make 2030, it won’t get there unless you do something very radical and grab the bull by the horns.”


England and Wales lose 43 million square metres of retail space

Retail floor space shrank in all but five local authorities in England and Wales between 2008 and 2015, according to research by Northumbria University’s R3 intelligence team.

The analysis, based on government data on business rate, found there were more than 157 million square metres of retail floor space in 2008, falling to just under 114 million square metres, a fall of 27.6 per cent.

In London, all but one borough experienced a decline in retail floor space, with Newham the exception thanks to Westfield’s Stratford City shopping centre, which opened in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Floorspace fell by 20 per cent or above in more than two thirds of local authorities. A total of 331 out of 348 councils showed significant decreases in the total rateable value of all retail premises in their areas.

The research pointed out that rateable value is the basis on which business rates are levied, meaning that the lower the value, the lower the tax revenue generated by authorities. It warned that councils are increasingly exposed to the vagaries of commercial real estate markers as they now depend on income from business rates to pay for services.


Council leaders warn of impending financial catastrophe

The leaders of nearly 80 local authorities are demanding an emergency cash injection to prevent the “catastrophic collapse” of councils.

A letter signed by the leaders to The Guardian warns ministers that it would be “hugely irresponsible” to continue with planned further cuts of £1.3 billion to next year’s revenue support grant.

“The most deprived areas of the country have been hit much harder than the richest areas – nine of the 10 most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts of almost three times the national average,” say the leaders. “After eight years of austerity, many councils have reached breaking point and council budgets are perilously close to collapse.”


‘Working poor’ reaches 4 million

The number of people with jobs living in poverty is rising faster than employment, with one in eight in the economy now working poor.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said more than 500,000 UK workers have joined the working poor in the past five years, raising the overall figure to four million.

The growing number of working poor, particularly parents, are struggling to pay for food, clothing and accommodation owing to a combination of weak wage growth, cuts in welfare support and tax credits and the rising cost of living.

Half-a-million more children are in poor households over the past five years, hitting 4.1 million overall. The JRF said out of a classroom of 30, nine children would live in a poor household.

Parents in low-paid work, especially in retail and hospitality, are major drivers behind the increase.


Online tool to help planners identify mining and groundwater

A free online tool to help planning authorities, developers and consultants design sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) in coalfield areas has been launched.

The pilot scheme by the Coal Authority and Environment Agency will allow planners and developers to consider the potential spatial pattern of mine water and groundwater levels as well as the potential pollution impacts.

“SuDS usually incorporate infiltration to ground within their sequence of management practices and it is these systems that this tool can help design,” said Coal Authority environment manager Ian Watson. “In areas with specific geology, in particular those affected by mining, and a high water table, infiltration-based sustainable drainage systems may not work and could result in groundwater flooding or pollution risks. Additionally, such issues might not occur immediately, but could take many years to manifest themselves as mine water levels rise over time.”

The new screening tool covers most of North East England, but there are plans to extend its reach if this pilot project is successful.

For further details, visit the government website.


EPR launches service to tackle biodiversity drive

Ecological planning consultancy EPR has launched a service to help planning authorities work with developers to deliver projects that avoid or mitigate cumulative harm to habitats.

Among the aspects of a “nature recovery network” envisaged in the government’s 25-year environment plan, the Planning for Wildlife scheme analyses data using GIS to identify key areas of protection, opportunities for restoration, measures to restore and create habitats and close cooperation with local wildlife organisations and biological records centres.

“Local authorities are under more pressure than ever to demonstrate their commitment to creating biodiversity ‘net gains’ as part of their local plans,” said EPR director Karen Colebourn. “However, despite this increasing focus, guidance on how to achieve biodiversity gains through an actionable nature recovery network in practice has to date been limited.”

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