Friday, 22 October 2021

Call for affordable rents for shopkeepers

LANDLORDS should be encouraged to set affordable business rents, according to the former town centre manager.

LANDLORDS should be encouraged to set affordable business rents, according to the former town centre manager.

Peter McConnell, who left the role at the end of last month, says the move would allow independent shops to flourish.

In his final report to Henley Town Council he claimed the town?s high street was ?thriving?, with new businesses moving in regularly.

But queuing traffic on White Hill and difficulties for visitors in finding the town?s car parks could be off-putting for businesses and shoppers.

Mr McConnell said: ?As a town we do not own any of the high street, we do not set rent or business rates or control who occupies these buildings. In fact all we can do is hope to influence who is attracted to the town.

?In any business plan for the town the town council would be wise to decide just what sort of businesses it would like to see in Henley and work with the agents, such as Simmons and Sons, to encourage them.

?It will also need to work hard to encourage landlords to set affordable rents and terms which will allow independents to be successful.?

Mr McConnell says the town suffered ?very little? in the recent recession due to its wealthy population and ?dynamic business environment?.

He said: ?The high street is thriving, with a healthy degree of churn creating opportunities for new businesses, while new national or regional chains tend to be at the quirky rather than ?me too? end of the spectrum.

?In retail it is difficult for independents to afford the high rents in the main shopping streets. Therefore we are likely to see newer start-ups continue to cluster at the margins.

?We should also recognise that the high street is a very different environment now to its accepted place, even 10 years ago. In many ways it is a more social place; pedestrianisation of Market Place, growth in coffee shops, refurbishment of pubs and new restaurants, and the growth in nail bars and hair dressers all encourage shared experiences.

?Many reports and studies indicate pure retail will never be as important again to consumers.?

Mr McConnell says residents must support the town?s events to attract visitors.

?Visitors will always come to Henley but tourism is a competitive business, so the town needs to continue supporting efforts to attract visitors who want to stay overnight and spend in Henley businesses. These are the people who make profit for the independents and attract the chains.

?A major barrier to visitors is the length of time it takes to travel down White Hill by car or coach in the summer, followed by the difficulty in finding a car park. The solution to the first is difficult but to the second is simple; improved signage pointing visitors to the Station car park, which is usually less than half full and has 267 spaces, would ease the situation.?

Mr McConnell says his ?ultimate goal? is to create a business improvement district for the town, supported by the town, district and county councils and the Henley Business Partnership.

This would involve introducing a levy on business rates to allow a business improvement district company to release increased funding for development in the designated district and to bid to take on local services, run events and fund capital programmes.

Mr McConnell added: ?Business improvement districts are common throughout the UK, with over 160 towns taking up the opportunity.

?A common factor to all districts is that they lead economic growth and regeneration of the business improvement district area.?

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