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COMMERCIAL PROPERTY VIEWPOINT

The recent turmoil in the High Street retail sector evidenced by shop closures by House of Fraser, New Look, M&S, Toys R Us, etc. have prompted calls for drastic action to save the U.K.'s high streets. This call is being led by the Daily Mail, no less, who have picked up on an issue I first raised over a year ago with front-page headlines calling for an urgent overhaul of the crippling business rates system. When the 2017 Rating Revaluation was completed, many shop values were reassessed with significant falls. For example, in Regent Street, Swindon, many of the shops have 2017 rateable values over 40% less than their 2010 rateable value. Yet because the Government introduced a draconian transitional surcharge system, instead of getting a 40% rates reduction, shops have been limited to rates reductions of 2.18% in 2017/18 and only 1.74% in 2018/19. By the time next revaluation is due in 2021, retailers who are still trading will still be paying rates based on excessive 2010 rateable values and will see no benefit at all from the revised 2017 rateable values, which makes the 2017 Revaluation a complete waste of time and money for them. A simple axing of the transitional surcharge provisions, or even a relaxation, which the Government can do easily and without primary legislation, would give an immediate boost to many beleaguered high street retailers and help commercial agents like us in letting vacant shops, of which there are plenty, both in Swindon town centre and elsewhere. Obviously the rates burden is not the only problem, but this combined with the growth of internet shopping and banking, together with the slackening of consumer demand and rising wage costs has combined to place retailers under more pressure than ever before. We need busy thriving town centres with a good mix of multiple and specialist retailers and leisure opportunities to attract the visitors. Let’s not end up with lots of ghost towns, full of empty buildings!