Help for the high street is welcomed
Berwick Chamber of Trade has welcomed plans in the Budget to breathe fresh life into British high streets.
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that the Government would introduce a Future High Street Fund aimed at transforming high streets into community assets fit for the 21st century.
Chamber of Trade secretary Stephen Scott said: “Everyone is aware of the problems we have in Berwick with empty units on Marygate and these problems will be exacerbated when the new retail park opens on Loaning Meadows.
“However, Berwick needs to establish an imaginative and exciting vision for the town centre and to become a leader in seeking our share of this £675million fund.
“We would hope that the Berwick Regeneration Commission should drive this forward, but with the Commission comprising local politicians and Governors of local public bodies, then we don’t believe we will get the imaginative and exciting vision required without the involvement of private enterprise and local businesses.”
The Chamber has also welcomed the announcement that business rates will be reduced by one-third for retail properties with a rateable value of below £51,000.
“This will benefit the large majority of businesses within the town centre,” said Mr Scott. “However, we hope that this provides an incentive to remote landlords and their property agents to review the rents on their properties to provide an additional incentive for private enterprise and local entrepreneurs to assist with the regeneration of Berwick.”
A further announcement that 100% rate relief will be provided on public lavatories was also welcomed.
“Local residents, visitors and local businesses all recognise the importance of being able to provide high quality public lavatories - a service that Berwick is currently failing to provide to our visitors,” said Mr Scott.
“We hope that the local authority uses the opportunity to improve the services available to Berwick rather that just banking the saving that the Government is providing.”
Coun Catherine Seymour, member for Berwick North on Northumberland County Council, said: “As common with town centres across the country, Berwick high street is struggling with the number of empty shops and properties in need of sensitive restoration. So it is great news that the Chancellor is cutting business rates to encourage occupancy.
“There are also welcome measures to support heritage high streets such as ours through Historic England and supported by the Architectural Heritage Fund to put these buildings back into economic use where people can live, work and shop.
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“There are a range of aspects to the challenges high streets like ours are facing. That is why Berwick Regeneration Commission has highlighted this issue and is developing a comprehensive town centre strategy, fit for the future.”
Berwick’s Conservative MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “I was also delighted to hear the Chancellor announce a business rates cut for small businesses, which will see 90 per cent of all small shops, cafes and restaurants save at least £8,000 a year.
“This is a huge boost for Northumberland businesses, many of whom have contacted me in the past year or so with concerns over business rates.”
Elsewhere, the Chancellor, signalling ‘an end to austerity’ confirmed the NHS is now to receive an extra £20.5billion a year over the next five years and promised the Brexit dividend – the money the UK will save from not being members of the EU, will be used to fund public services, including schools and the NHS.
Mrs Trevelyan said: “Continued extra funding for our NHS is vital, and I am delighted we are delivering more than double the funds promised even by opposition parties. We are able to fund our public services in such a way because of the Conservatives’ careful management of the economy in the wake of Labour’s disastrous recession.
“I am sure many of my constituents will also be pleased to hear there is yet more money - £420 million – for pothole repairs, available immediately, as I know motorists are beginning to suffer at this time of year.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “It is important that the Chancellor has recognised the importance of investing in our high streets. He has announced a £675million Future High Streets Fund to allow councils to rejuvenate town centres. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 to 400,000 new homes alone could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets. This is space just waiting to be turned into residential accommodation. There is a pressing need to re-invent many of our town centres in light of changing patterns of retail and leisure. The Government should be applauded for its ambition to safeguard the life of our high streets.”
He continued: “We would urge councils to take this opportunity to look again at how they can work with local builders and developers to make better use of existing town centre building, and facilitate the development of wasted space above shops. A recent report titled Homes on our High Streets from the FMB puts councils at the heart of the solution and suggests some practical ways for them to facilitate the development of wasted space above shops.
“Retail will always be an important element of vibrant high streets, but there is plenty we can do on a small scale to help convert unused and under-used space in to attractive residential units. This will both boost the supply of new homes and help breathe new life back into our high streets. What we must avoid is perfectly good space lying empty and achieving nothing in terms of boosting the local economy or housing individuals.”
The Chancellor also announced a further freeze to fuel duties for the ninth successive year bringing the total saving to the average car driver to over £1,000 and to the average van driver to over £2,500, as well as a continued freeze on beer and cider duty to help pubs.