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By Andrew Kilpatrick, BSc FRICS ACIArb IRRV, Managing Director, Kilpatrick & Co, chartered surveyors

With the end of the summer holiday season in sight as Autumn beckons, the gloom in the high street continues, with news from the British Retail Consortium of a survey showing 1 in 10 shops were vacant in July, a 4 year high. Maybe this is what prompted comrade Corbyn to propose a Labour government would somehow give councils sweeping powers to take over empty shops and make them available to start-up businesses, co-operatives and community projects on a not-for-profit basis. One quick lesson in how to deter anyone in investing in high street retail property in the UK and kill off what life remains in the high streets! Such a policy does nothing to encourage retailers to stay in the high street or take on new properties. It does nothing to encourage landlords to spend money on refurbishing vacant shop property. It does nothing to encourage conversion of empty properties into new mixed use buildings. Indeed, it simply demonstrates politicians have little understanding of property and life in the UK’s high streets and a failure to understand that carrots work better than a stick! Unused space above shops could be converted to much needed new residential accommodation or perhaps tap into the growing interest in competitive socialising concepts, such as crazy golf, trampoline parks or climbing walls or bars and restaurants with skyline views or be used as just-in-time stores for online retailing as last-mile logistics space with fast delivery, via drones. How about encouraging such value creating concepts rather than giving a free ticket to well-meaning, not for profit freeloaders? Perhaps someone, somewhere in the Government will listen to the BRC’s 50 major retailers who have written to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer urging the Government to reform the broken business rates system by freezing the business rates multiplier, fixing transitional surcharges, which currently force many retailers to pay significantly more rates than they should, introducing “improvement relief” for ratepayers and ensuring the Valuation Office Agency is resourced to do its job. Hopefully, the “B” word will not preclude Government action in much needed other areas under this new government!