I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that online shopping and edge-of-town retail parks have effectively killed our town centres and that high street buildings should therefore be converted to housing.
Mary Portas’ review of British high streets includes a chapter on “Levelling the playing field”. She advocates preferential treatment for town centres over out-of-town shopping and recommends an explicit presumption in favour of town centre development.
But many of the problems are right there in the high street itself. For one thing, draconian parking regulations and exorbitant parking charges serve only to highlight the shortcomings of public transport. Furthermore, if the ‘Queen of shops’ were to take a walk down any high street in England, she must surely see the real problem with the playing field: it’s ludicrously tilted in favour of charity shops.
Charity shops indirectly inflate business rates because they qualify for 80% mandatory non-domestic business rates relief. Sorry to sound uncharitable at Christmas, but that concession is skewing the market and is manifestly unfair to other retailers.
At the risk of putting myself in the running for the 2011 Scrooge Award, I think the time has come for less charity and more fairness in the high street.