Districts declare high street emergency as retail applications plummet

So what exactly is the government willing to take responsibility for? Councils have to do more to deliver the housing people need, councils need to do more to make the houses that are built, better quality and prettier, councils need to do more to promote and sustain the high street.

Let’s not forget that councils need to do all this with less funding from central government, despite being given an ever increasing list of burdens by Whitehall. The Homelessness Act being the latest financial black hole into which cash is pouring like a Las Vegas casino.

The funding deficit is now replaced by, in part, non-domestic rates such as those paid by the high street shops that have been decimated by successive government policy decisions and illogical increases in those rates.

Now in a lovely twist of the knife in local government’s back, we hear ever increasing calls from various parties for councils to do more to reduce the burden of business rates on the high street.

The number of applications by retailers to England’s district councils have nearly halved in the past four years, contributing to the high street crisis.

An analysis by the District Councils’ Network (DCN) reveals that members received 1,258 applications in the year ending June 2019, down from 2,216 since June 2015.

The DCN, which represents 191 district councils, says the figures show that high streets are in a state of “emergency”.

The analysis of government figures for England also shows that planning applications for new housing have slumped to a four-year low.

District councils received 31,073 applications for new homes in 2019 – the lowest since 2015.

DCN says the figures reflect the ongoing economic uncertainty and falling confidence from developers in the housing market.

It is calling on the government to give all districts the long-term funding they need to revive high streets, and to give them flexibility to raise finance locally, for instance, to set business rates relief.

Districts also want the government to guarantee the continuation of the New Homes Bonus to ensure that councils have the funding to deliver services and attract the new investment critical to thriving communities.

“These figures paint a worrying picture about the future of our high streets and town centres, and highlight the uphill battle we face tackling the housing crisis,” said DCN leader for stronger economics Mark Crane.

“There are huge opportunities to reshape places into thriving community, cultural and employment hubs – by investing in new housing, infrastructure, services and events.

“However, district councils, which are responsible for delivering housing and improving high streets, need the funding certainty and powers to transform town centres, to attract investment into infrastructure, and to build new homes.

“While there is a growing amount of energy and schemes invested in tackling these issues from Whitehall, the national complexity and focus on short-term results risks underutilising the ambitions of district councils to deliver change over the long term.”

1 November 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner

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