22 Oct 2019, 09.46

The Economic Committee of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly has called on the UK and Irish Governments, and the devolved Governments in the UK, to be more proactive on addressing the multi-faceted problem of high street decline.

The problems facing the high street are well documented: business rates, online shopping, out of town shopping malls and retail parks, access in and around the city centre and other rising costs.

During its inquiry, the Committee heard evidence from a range of stakeholders in Stockton-on-Tees and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Dublin, and Newcastle, Co. Down and Belfast.

The Committee decided to focus its inquiry on finding best practice policy tools, through a comparative study of case studies across the UK and Ireland, to address common problems afflicting high streets and local business.

The purpose of the report is to propose practical solutions and pitch recommendations at both a local and national government level to address the multi-faceted problem of high street decline.

Launching the report, Committee Chair Joan Burton TD commented: “The report outlines the practical action local government, business groups and communities can take now to help the high street. From leadership and community buy-in for regeneration projects to urban planning and targeted support for local businesses, there are many initiatives which can support businesses.

“It is important that we continue to attract visitors and increase ‘dwell time’, with that in mind public realm improvements are vital to help access to the high street and town centres if we are to future proof the high street.

“There are other initiatives which can revitalise the high street and help to rebalance regional growth, these include reviewing Government policy on alcohol licensing and the rolling out of high-quality broadband and providing increased powers for local councils.”

Main recommendations:

  • Local authorities should be given increased powers to set and adjust business rates.
  • Encourage the building of residential housing in town and city centres through the rezoning of commercial and brownfield sites and allow for a vacant site levy.
  • Changes to alcohol licensing laws should be introduced to allow small venues to capture the benefits of the night time economy.
  • Enable the creation of tech hubs and digital work spaces away from city centres.

Devolve greater powers to local authorities to curate how urban sites are utilised in the city centre.

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