Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

Eric Pickles launches package of support for local shops

Town centre tax breaks and parking reform at centre of high street package.

As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has today (6 December 2013) set out a billion pound package of support for the UK’s high streets.

A central part of that plan is to create more jobs by backing British business. The measures outlined today will make it easier for all the shops on Britain’s high streets to grow, expand and take people on.

They include a new consultation to tackle aggressive parking policies, which harm high streets; and a review of double yellow lines, legislating to allow “grace periods” and stopping CCTV being used for enforcement. The government will also cap increases in parking penalty charges for the rest of this Parliament, with immediate effect. These steps will make it cheaper and easier to park, encourage people to shop locally and help with the cost of living.

There is also help for business following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement with the biggest package of business rates support in over 20 years announced to help the high street. Changes include:

  • a £1,000 discount in 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016 for retail premises with a rateable value of up to £50,000 - including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants
  • capping the Retail Price Index (RPI) increase in bills to 2% in 2014 to 2015 - businesses were expecting a 3.2 % rise
  • extending the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief to April 2015
  • a reoccupation relief for 18 months with a 50% discount for new occupants of retail premises empty for a year or more
  • allowing businesses to pay their bills over 12 months (rather than 10), which will help every firm with their cashflow

The importance of online technology is also recognised with a new multi-million pound competition, run by the Technology Strategy Board, being announced to support business-led digital town centres. Additionally the government in partnership with business will fund £4.7 million of research on e-commerce and digital high streets innovations.

In planning, changes to permitted development rights will offer town centres the flexibility they need to adapt existing buildings. The government will consult on permitting change of use from retail to restaurants and retail to cinemas, gyms, skating rinks and swimming pools. They will also consult on allowing installation of mezzanine floors in retail premises where this would support the town centre.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, said:

The way we use our high streets is changing and the measures unveiled today give councils more power to reflect that in the way their high streets look and operate.

New tax breaks for shops and sensible changes to over zealous parking rules will help make high streets more attractive to shoppers. And by providing excellent local services and offering communities a vibrant place to spend their leisure time and money, local authorities can secure the future of their high streets for many years to come.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

Unfair parking fines blight the use of our high streets and force shoppers out of towns. We want to rein back aggressive rules by banning the use of CCTV for parking enforcement, reviewing the use of yellow lines, and giving shoppers a ‘grace period’ to get back to their car after their ticket has run out before they get fined.

We will also update guidance to emphasise a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement and to reinforce that charges and fines cannot be used as a means to raise cash.

Picture courtesy of R~P~M under creative commons copyright.

Further information

More details on today’s measures are summarised below and set out in detail in Supporting high streets and town centres: background note (PDF, 40.7KB, 8 pages) .

The doubling of the small business rate relief for a further year to 31 March 2015 to provide particular support for 540,000 of the smallest businesses. 360,000 businesses will continue to receive 100% business rates relief. From 1 April 2014 small shops can take on second property and still qualify for relief for a year. A discount of £1000 for small retail premises with rateable value under £50,000 for 2 years from 1 April 2014 benefiting around 300,000 shops, pubs and restaurants. Betting shops, banks and payday lenders will not get the discount. A new reoccupation relief to help bring empty shops back into use. In addition government will cap the business rates RPI increase in 2014 to 2015 at 2%.

A consultation on ‘local authority parking’, being launched today, recommends new measures to promote common sense rules on parking. The intention is to ensure that parking strategies complement and enhance the attractiveness of our high streets and town centres. Parking penalty charges changes will seek to ensure that local authorities do not misuse their civil parking enforcement powers and to keep the cost of living down. Update parking enforcement guidance to mirror the pro-high street policies reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework. This will advocate a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement and reinforce that parking charges and fines should not be used to subsidise other areas of local government spending. To that end, the government proposes to:

  • freeze all parking penalty charges from today until the remainder of this Parliament, with immediate effect
  • stop CCTV being used for on-street parking enforcement
  • introduce a right for communities and businesses to require authorities to review their parking strategies, including the level of parking charges, location of yellow lines
  • to legislate to allow “grace periods” before penalties are issued for minor contraventions
  • allowing the parking adjudicator power to grant appeals where councils have not followed guidance, and highlighting that adjudicators can award costs where appeals are won
  • removing disincentives for appeals, by allowing a 25% discount for prompt payment after the appeal if the fine is still payable
  • update parking enforcement guidance to advocate a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement (including for medical staff on emergencies).

Support for the ‘clicks and bricks’ model of shopping so that online and traditional retail complement each other in ‘technology smart town centres,’ with a new multi million pound competition run by the Technology Strategy Board to support business-led digital town centres, £4.7 million research led by the Economic and Social Research Council to promote innovation, and a private sector led group designed to promote digital high streets.

A call for evidence for a Red Tape Challenge which will identify and address outdated rules and regulations which are holding back high street businesses, focusing in particular on how town centres change their uses and embrace opportunities around cultural and night-time economies.

New flexibilities in the planning system to promote high street diversity building on our reforms which make it easier to change what high street property is used for, we will review the rules so that it is easier to change shops into housing or to banks, and will also look at making it easier to put mezzanine levels into shops, so that businesses can easily increase their floor space. We will also produce guidance which sets out the need for local authorities to review the land they own in town centres and promote best practice which encourages swift changes of use.

A review of business improvement districts to ensure they are working as effectively as they can, and as a first step to making them stronger, expand them so that landowners as well as occupiers can participate.

Two years on from the Portas Review, this government has put in place a wide range of measures to help the high street. The government has already invested £18 million to help high streets, including funding 24 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams. The funds have also provided expert business support through the High Street Champions initiative in partnership with Business in the Community.

Towns up and down the country are already taking action to rejuvenate their high streets, with Forest Hill getting 7 out of 10 empty high street shops back into use using short term leases, Braintree reducing parking charges to bring more than 44,000 extra cars to the high street, and Market Rasen setting up an award winning market that brings extra people to the high street.

The government is also creating the right conditions so councils, businesses and communities can work together to rejuvenate their town centres:

Cutting their national insurance and corporation tax.

Planning: planning restrictions have been lifted to help landlords make better use of their empty properties, either by allowing them to lease for shorter periods, helping start-up businesses to set up in the high street, or by making it easier to turn commercial properties into residential facilities to increase resident population and local footfall.

Parking: we have changed the previous approach to setting parking fees to discourage car use and provide ‘maximum’ parking levels, have changed planning rules to allow councils to make decisions about parking requirements and fees in order to best meet local needs and issued guidance that encourages councils to attract shoppers by setting competitive parking charges, and to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure.

The Future High Streets Forum brings together leading businesses, academics and local leaders to look at the challenges facing our town centres and work with councils to build on what government has started.

The role of business improvement districts in rejuvenating high streets is being tested by some of the Portas Pilots such as Bedford, Loughborough, Bedminster and Lowestoft.

Media enquiries

Our recent Community Testing success for Local Authorities