Harrow Council’s work on keeping High Streets active has been picked out as an example of good work by umbrella body London Councils.
They use the council’s work as a case study in their report, Streets Ahead, which looks at the capital’s high streets and makes a range of recommendations to improve the local economy.
The report says London has almost 7,000 vacant shops. London Councils say this costs the London economy £350 million in lost trade and earnings.
The study also calls for the government to grant councils more powers to curb betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets, which they think can damage high streets, and for more powers to be devolved to councils to help stimulate growth and new jobs.
Dianna Neal, Head of Economy, Culture and Tourism at London Councils said: “The study’s findings highlight the need for the radical devolution of power and resources to councils to help businesses adapt to a changed consumer environment.
“The government could halt further decline by devolving powers to councils to support high streets, such as the ability to stop the damaging spread of betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets.”
Boroughs currently do not have the power to control retail outlets which they think might deter visitors and have damaging social effects, adding to obesity, gambling addiction and serious debt.
Some commentators feel that the crusade against betting shops and fried chicken outlets is misplaced, and an example of the ‘nanny state’ acting where market forces should determine the best outcome for towns.
The study features as a case study the work of London Borough of Harrow’s Inward Investment Strategy team, who worked with banks and property agents to develop investment guides to local district centres, highlighting local demographics and available properties. As a result, the average vacancy rate for retail frontages in town centres across the borough has fallen for the second year running from a high of 7.5 per cent in 2009/10 to 6.5 per cent in 2011/12.