Monday, 19 July 2010

A smarter way to balance out-of-town superstores and support our Town Centre shops? (Updated)

On Friday, following Cllr Cliff Everett's comments about Holyhead Retail Park, I asserted that out-of-town superstores are effectively "hollowing out" Anglesey's town centres and that the Island needs a more savvy economic development / planning policy which finds a balance between the greater choices and cheaper prices which national out-of-town retailers bring on the one hand, and supporting local shops and businesses in the town centres on the other. One of the pleasures of writing a blog like this is the great ideas which sometimes emerge from comments - one such gem is the following idea to sustain town centres whilst at the same time allowing edge-of-town or out-of-town retailers. Like all good ideas it has the virtue of simplicity and would presumably be easy to implement given some direction and political will in the Council.

Based on the same principle applied to felling trees that if you chop one down you should plant a new one, the idea is that national retailers should only be given planning permission to build superstores on the edge of our towns on the condition that for the duration that they operate from that location they also rent out at least one empty town centre shop, refurbish it, and then sub-lease it on to a local business at a certain percentage below the average rent in the town (i.e. similar to the Council's current Affordable Homes policy of capping house resale prices at a certain percentage below the value of the property). I would further finesse the idea by:
  1. applying it to only to certain sectors (in particular supermarkets) which generally tend to take business away from town centre shops.
  2. requiring that superstores over a certain threshold lease town centre retail space not less than, for example, 5% of their  total out-of-town floorspace - therefore an exceptionally large out-of-town retailer maybe required to lease more than one town centre shop.
As the retailer should recoup the majority - but not all - of its costs through sub-leasing the town centre premises, these conditions would not be overly onerous compared to the large profits out-of-town superstores can generate.

In this way we could keep our town centres vibrant, promote new local small businesses and also enjoy the convenience and choice brought by out-of-town superstores. What do you think? Can you see any reasons why such a scheme may be unviable? Perhaps you have other, better ideas? Unfortunately it may already be too late to save some of our town centres...

UPDATE: With reference to this post the County Councillor for Holyhead Town, Cliff Everett, writes in once again to say:
"a very interesting concept you have posted re town centres, I think its worth investigating further via section 106 agreements, I would say that when Morrisons applied to come on the retail park in Holyhead, I asked for planning gain for the town centre and they agreed to pay for free parking for 3 years in one of the town centre car parks, this now applies to lower hill street car park for the first hour, I also asked for planning gain for play areas in Holyhead again it was agreed and £26k was donated to the town council for play area improvements."
Its tremendous to see that there are some Councillors who are open to engaging with Anglesey residents in this way - its also good to hear that he has obtained some benefit for Holyhead's Town Centre from Morrisons in the form of free car parking and a play area. Happily, Cliff also promises to pass on this idea to John Chorlton, the new Planning portfolio holder.


Anonymous said...

Not legally or commercially feasible I`m afraid.

Prometheuswrites said...

Feasible - yes
Realistic - yes
Win-Win - yes

Sounds good to me.

Prometheuswrites said...

What are the legal and commercial problems?
Could they be solved?

Prometheuswrites said...

Just to say I wasn't being belligerant.
You post hadn't appeared when I started typing my first comment.

Anonymous said...

Simply -
Its not likely a commercial retailer would volunteer or agree to such an idea, for a raft of commercial, competition and cost reasons.
Its not something which would be supportable or enforceable in planning law.
Moreover...its an academic Druid says, all the towns on Anglesey which are large enough in population and catchment areas, already accommodate such stores....and we all patronise them do we not ?
Otherwise, a nice idea.

Anonymous said...

The irony about allowing out/edge-of-town stores in places like Holyhead is that retail impact assessments submitted with applications all made clear to planners that the impact on existing centres would be minimal..proving you can prove anything with figures, hypotheses and subjective wrong they were !
Holyhead`s town centre is now called Penrhos retail Park....the old centre is decaying. No amount of public money will save it.

Anonymous said...

An interesting and potentially powerful new law is coming !
The Decentralisation and Localism Bill...designed to devolve decision-making powers in governance from regional to local level.
Is this a NIMBY`s it promises more say to local people in housing and planning decisions, among other issues.
Do we see local people gaining the upper hand in opposing unwelcomed developments...would that be a good thing...experience is often that local nimby`s oppose for the wrong preserve a view, or open space, or some bad-neighbour proposal.........??

Anonymous said...

Impact assessments should be in two parts; what is the impact that is imagined before the event, and what is the *actual* impact say 5 years after.

If after 5 years the impact on local businesses is greater than stated, the retailers are obliged to fund the difference. If they are confident in their assessments they shouldn't have much to fear. Might put the indemnity up a bit. I realise there are loads of problems to consider and it is probably not enforceable.

Impact assessments themselves need assessing and reviewing.

Anonymous said...

"Fund the difference" ?
OK. How do we define and quantify the "difference"...e.g. the difference in local traders` net profit before and after ?...but profit levels depend on a host of indirect things from personal motivation to the amount of debt that is carried, and increasing business rates do we input for such diverse and elastic deductions...the super-retailer will not be interested in grappling with such quantifications, nor would it be reasonable to expect him to.
So, its impractical, and unsupportable.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so it was a bit of a trap.

How then can an impact assessment be
accurate in the terms of definitions and quantites, if these things can't even be measured after the event?

They are accepted as accurate, but it seems they are not.

The Great Councillini said...

A lot of things in life are accepted as accurate but are not very when you look into them. This should not stop novel and very worthwhile ideas like this being implemented, although it is, as Druid says, largely too late for all our larger settlements where large stores want to locate.

If planners and councillors adopt a less deferential attitude to big developers and their legions of lawyers, and stand up for the communities they represent, then that would be a good stepping-off point. All the details could then be negotiated; it's laughable to suggest that any problems could not be overcome.

Although it's open to criticism like any other idea, one way to 'measure' impact might be to think about a superstore - not unrealistically - like a collection of shop outlets. So, there's a newsagent = one shop. Then a grocers = another shop (or two, given the size of some grocer stands). Then there's meat = a butcher's. Liquors = an off-licence. And so on. Looking at it this way, it's easy to see how big an impact large stores can have on town centres, and how that effect might be lessened.

Of course, we can't just blame the stores and the council - it's also down to the public to apply pressure. If all we want is cheaper prices then all we get is large stores and packets of MSG at 45p a pop.

Actually, now I think about it, I'm sure the Council did once move to suggest Tesco vouchers as part of people's salaries, but it never materialised. Maybe it failed because it was hardly a good sign for supporting smaller businesses!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see cliff engaging. But in reality. How can he ever be considered to be open and honest, when he continues to operate and condone breaking the law of the Human Rights Act. Or is this the price he's willing to pay for Clive McGregor's 30 pieces of silver. Can he please comment on this?

Prometheuswrites said...

Nice to see the IOACC timeline tab at the top of the blog.

A essential primer for new (and seasoned) readers of the blog.

The Druid of Anglesey said...

Prometheus - still under construction I'm afraid. But will be finalised shortly.

Anonymous said...

Druid, since I made the original comparison of trees and shops, looking at your 1. above care must be taken to control the setting up of an 'intown' shop such a Te..o Expre.. , this might also have the effect of killing trade nearby allowing the major edge of twon store to flourish, it would anyway because they know where to select sites.


Anonymous said...

Just a thought.

Looking at Holyhead with so many empty shops. Say the Council bought them, above every shop there is a dwelling, make them all habitable, convert some of them into flats and rent these to Council tennants. This would help alleviate housing and generate rental income.

The shops, renovated could be rented out to small businesses.
I hear so many shopkeepers moaning about rates. Whats killing most of them is paying rates and rent.

If the Council were to generate money from renting out the flats and the shops, maybe they could cut the rates in half for all. At least it would give businesses a chance.

Holyhead in the future could be like the Barbican in Plymouth. full of little curiosity shops, antique shops and specialist shops.

Holyhead is seeped in history, wouldnt it be great to have a large museum in Town surrounded by these little shops. The pubs are suffering, a restaurant or two could help, people like having a little drink before and after a meal.

No doubt the fat cats are taking all the spoils, but Holyhead people are fighters and I do see a future for our Town.

G. Pierce

Old Mona said...

Whilst I am not suggesting that Councillors go off on jolly's visiting places over the UK. I would advise councillors to look at towns in England similar to Holyhead such as Falmouth in Cornwall and Plymouth where development has taken place. Falmouth in particular has a thriving high street in addition to out of town shopping areas. The port has been redeveloped and the High Street was bustling.

The other problem which noone has mentioned is the vast increase in online shopping which it is suggested could reach £60 billion in the next year or so. I am sure all of the the people contributing to this blog have at some stage bought stuff online where it is much cheaper. A lot of the out of town retailers besides being shops are also giant warehouses providing for the online shopper. The now defunct plans for Ty Mawr which would have housed a factory retail park which brings top brand goods albeit end of ranges etc to local comunities.You only have to look at the success of Cheshire Oaks (whether you like it or not).That is the out of the box view that should be taken by the powers that be. They will have to take a long look at all the options available to the modern day shopper and take these into account. I believe that an'Economic Development Council' should be set up who would include, traders whether big or small, developers,marketeers and Local and National authorities, not just to look at the state of our historical centres but at Anglesey's economic future.

The Druid of Anglesey said...

Old Mona - you raise some interesting points which we haven't explored previously, i.e. how internet shopping also affects our high streets. Certainly certain businesses - particularly booksellers - have been dramatically affected by online sales and this trend is bound to continue into other categories too.

I guess the point is that the kinds of shops we used to find on our high streets, will not be the kinds of shops that will be viable in our future high streets. This means that shop owners need to consider what they can sell which is not available cheaper (a) in out-of-town superstores, or (b) on the internet. There are some obvious answers, e.g. I believe as people inevitably turn towards healthier diets there will be opportunities for local farmers/producers to sell their locally grown goods directly on the high street. I'm sure there are plenty of other niche categories which will also emerge.

Old Mona said...

I agree with your last points about local food being sold by farmers and food producers and niche shops opening up but that is never going to happen unless local/national authorities make it worthwile for new businesses to grow.
In Holyhead there should be free parking say for 2 hours at all car parks, for new businesses we should have a business rates holiday for maybe 2 years to give those businesses a chance to grow.

As regards online shopping it is more than just booksellers it is everyone. Florists, Fashion retailing,Electrical goods, Banking. All the main food retail giants have home delivery, usually free or for a nominal charge. The travel Agents have all gone, probably just one on the island.
Shoppers no longer have the loyalty to a particular retailer it is all down to price and convenience.Sad but true.

Maybe one way that the out of town retailers could assist is to use their vast managerial and marketing rescourses to set up local help centres 'Welsh Dragons Den' where budding entrepenuers can seek advice and get practical assistance in setting up their businesses, maybe even finance.If a local community is bouyant then everyone benefits.

Anonymous said...

It is a sad but true statement "Use It Or Lose It" and that is exactly why so many shops in our towns and villages have had to close. There was atime when dad worked and mother stayed at home. Nowadays, when they are lucky enough, both are out at work. and need to be able to shop at less convenient hours. Most smaller owner operated shops do not have the staff for extended hours of operation and so do not provide the service that the 'majors' do. Hence people get out of using the traditional shops.

I went on holiday to Orlando and asked the way to the 'original Orlando' "you mean down town Orlando" I was asked, yes. "You wanna go there?" yes. I drove there and bought a can of coke from a man with a trolley, I asked where all the shops were, the trolley man replied that there were no shops anymore and how wished there were because then there would be more people about.

That is the way we are going, a new way of life.

Anglesey Islander

Anonymous said...

Planning gain. If you don't ask you don't get !!