Town centre bosses welcome plans to fill empty high street shops
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Government plans to fill empty shops and sell vacant units have been welcomed by town centre bosses in Suffolk.
New powers for local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and instigate rental auctions of vacant commercial properties in town centres and on high streets were included in the Queen’s Speech.
Other measures including making the pavement cafes which sprang up during the pandemic a permanent fixture were also announced.
Sophie Alexander-Parker, Ipswich Central chief executive, said: "Ipswich Central welcomes a renewed focus on alternative ways to revive town centres which were heavily impacted by the pandemic.
"Ideas such as utilising street pavements for extended trading areas are useful but they are not a ‘silver bullet’.
"We have long been calling for a fundamental review of the outdated business rates system which imposes uncompetitive costs upon high street retailers compared to those trading online or out-of-town.
"We will await further details, particularly around the compulsory rental legislation and will then be consulting with local property owners for their views."
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Ipswich Borough Council bosses are understood to be looking into the implications of the new laws, and whether they could be used to repurpose buildings such as the former Grimwade's store on the Cornhill.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Bury St Edmund's Business Improvement District, also welcomed the news.
However, bosses in some other industries said the speech did not offer businesses much.
Andy Wood, chief executive of Southwold-based brewery Adnams, said: "It comes against a very difficult backdrop, but there's not too much eye-catching for businesses here.
"If the levelling up agenda leads to some more money through county deals coming into Suffolk and Norfolk – that's a good thing.
"And if we're able to determine how that is spent in the furtherance of our economy – then that's another good thing."
Paul Simon, head of public affairs & strategic communications at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: "Suffolk businesses will certainly be interested in the proposed Energy, Transport and Levelling Up and Regeneration Bills and how they might impact on the much-needed investment in the county’s infrastructure and skills base.
"Suffolk Chamber will be at the forefront in working with our MPs and other legislators to ensure that the county receives its fair share to maximise its contribution to its own and the country’s long-term sustainable growth.
“However, of much more immediate concern to the Chamber, its members and the wider business community are the current challenging trading conditions.
"With the cost of energy and other inputs rising steeply, growing labour and skills shortages and excessive corporate taxation, we are worried about the short to medium-term prospects unless the Government creates a more supportive fiscal environment.
“That is why Suffolk Chamber is calling for an emergency budget in the coming weeks that expressly delivers a pro-business programme by reversing the recent Employer NI hike, cuts VAT from 20% to 5% from SME’s energy bills and addresses the ongoing high absentee rates being experienced in some sectors by reintroducing free Covid tests for businesses and their staff.”