Speaking to a Treasury select committee, the former managing director of John Lewis said the review is needed to alleviate the disproportionate financial burden that falls on the retail and manufacturing sectors.
The mayor has long been a strong champion of the region’s high streets. In 2018 he published a ‘Blueprint for the Modern British Town Centre’, which set out twelve considerations for local leaders trying to create successful urban centres. He has also set up the Town Centre Taskforce to advise on the revitalisation of high streets and, as chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority, launched a £20m regeneration programme covering Bilston, Walsall, Dudley, West Bromwich and Bordesley Green.
When asked by the select committee what measures he would like to see implemented, the mayor set out a number of proposals, including:
- reduced business rates for new and expanding businesses;
- 100 per cent relief for public sector organisations, such as colleges and the NHS, that operate from high street premises;
- enhanced powers for local authorities and special planning conditions that would fast track housing projects, public improvements and ‘change of use’ applications;
- increased taxation of online businesses.
While business rates only make up four per cent of the country’s total taxation, they have a big effect on high streets and town centres, many of which are struggling since the rise of online shopping. The ideas are just some of the measures in Street’s plan to turn town centres into ‘free trade zones’, a model he says has driven economic development across Asia and the Middle East.
“Our town centres and in particular our high streets are the heart of where we live,” he said, “and they are having a tough time. We need to think originally to come up with practical solutions to help them thrive again.”
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