Councillor Geoff Gollop and I recently took Regional Mayor Tim Bowles around one of the city’s declining shopping centres, Westbury Village.
Last month, the Westbury-on-Trym Business Association (WOTBA) held a meeting with local people to air concerns over the loss of at least ten businesses in the area and to get backing for a regeneration plan.
We used the visit by the Regional Mayor as an opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting even relatively prosperous locations caused by changing shopping habits, high rents and rates.
A number of initiatives have recently been announced, including the Chancellor’s planned 2% digital or online transaction tax; £900m in business rates relief for small independent traders (which will see these costs reduced by one third for two years); and a £675m package to create a ‘Future High Streets Fund’ and Taskforce.
In addition, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is allocating £10m towards a ‘Love Our High Streets’ project to fund three pilots across the region (Bedminster East Street having now been chosen for the Bristol trial) to explore ways of dealing with a calamity in bricks-and-mortar retailing that, nationally, is already seeing 16 shops per day close.
Bristol Conservatives have been making the case for major investment to revive our satellite or secondary shopping centres for quite some time now.
The Chancellor’s £1.5bn package of measures based around cutting business rates and regeneration funding, together with the WECA scheme, is very welcome and we hope will make a difference in transforming threatened local precincts and community focal points.
It is vital that a programme of support is rolled out to other parts of Bristol equally under stress like Westbury Village, Crow Lane in my ward, as well as important traditional shopping destinations such as Shirehampton and Arneside Road (Southmead).
This is something that I would urge the Labour Mayor to really get behind in the weeks and months ahead.
I know that my colleagues agree.
Cllr Gollop (Westbury-on-Trym & Henleaze) added: “It is clear from the number of empty properties in our local village that nowhere is immune to the seismic shift currently underway in the high street.
“Whilst this evolutionary process is perhaps unstoppable, politicians can take steps through capital expenditure and business rate reliefs to try to control the speed and future shape of this transformation.
“I believe it is a challenge which is now beginning to be seriously addresses at both a national and regional level.”
Regional Mayor Tim Bowles commented: “Our high streets are having a tough time as shopping online becomes increasingly popular. The West of England Combined Authority’s Love our High Streets project involves working with our councils and communities to explore how we can get the funding, expertise and support to revive our town centres. The future of our high streets isn’t just about shops, it’s about our businesses, activities, services and homes. We must work together as a region to embrace the future of our high streets in the digital age.”