Looking after our high-streets this Christmas

Christmas always starts for me when I join the throngs in Falmouth listening to the Harmony Choir. Everyone will have their own festive favourites from the live nativities and Santa runs to some welcome innovations such as the Science at Christmas event at the Poly, enabled by Exeter University.  

Christmas shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops in Falmouth and Penryn where we can buy our Christmas presents and locally produced festive food and drink. There is no doubt that Falmouth and Penryn high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.  

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.   

Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets and town centres fit for the future. 

This will provide hands-on support to local areas to develop innovative strategies to help high streets evolve, connect local areas to relevant experts and share best practice. 

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.  

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. This is something I have worked with Falmouth Town Council to achieve. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures. This may seem like a small thing but it will save our local councils vital taxpayers’ money.  

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties to help prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street. 

While the business rates discount will provide up front support to the high street, the government is taking long term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created. 

The government will consult on modernising planning rules to ensure that they support the transformation of the high street. There will be two consultations on supporting the conversion of commercial properties into offices or homes and the implementation of new mixed-use business models that could form the vibrant high street of the future and on how to support local areas to use other planning tools more effectively. 

It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.  

First published in the Falmouth Wave December 2018 edition

 

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Great British High Street of the Year

Wow! Falmouth won the Best Coastal Community High Street completion, beating entries from across the country. This is a real tribute to the leadership and teamwork of Richard Gates and Richard Wilcox who work day in, day out with a dedicated group of local people, all determined to make the most of Falmouth and develop our community.

Over the weekend, I really enjoyed joining a range of local festive activities and want to thank the many people who organise and support the wide range of activities that make Christmas so special in Cornwall.

Each year, I try and buy as much as possible of my family’s food, drink and Christmas presents from local producers and makers. Each year it is a pleasure to see more and different people bringing their talents to the marketplace. Compared to ten years ago, the range and quality of locally grown and produced food and drink has grown tremendously.

In addition to the hard work of the producers and makers, a huge effort has gone into enabling this to happen from David Rodda, Cornwall Food and Drink, and Cornwall Trading Standards, who have worked very hard to secure protected name status for local food specialities such the Cornish Pasty and the native Fal Oyster.

The purpose of this EU scheme is to protect the reputation of regional products, promote traditional agricultural activity and to eliminate non-genuine products, which may mislead consumers or be of inferior or different character; for example, producers cannot refer to their product as a Cornish Pasty unless it has been produced within Cornwall, following particular methods.

Now that the decision to leave the EU has been made, I am determined to ensure that a replacement scheme is carefully but swiftly put in place to protect our important local food producers.

First published in the West Briton 14/12/16

Falmouth High Street

I am delighted that Falmouth has made it onto the shortlist of Great British High Street Competition, in the coastal communities category. This year’s competition saw a record 900 entries.

This is a terrific achievement for the team that works day in and day out to improve Falmouth. The town team of Richard Gates and Richard Wilcox are supported by a wide range of people in our community.

If Falmouth wins, Falmouth high street businesses will benefit from a share of the prize pot worth £100,000 and expert training from Google’s digital taskforce for shops, bars and restaurants and a trip to Twitter UK’s London office to further boost social media skills.

The Great British High Street Competition celebrates the great work that is being done to revive, adapt and diversify the nation’s high streets. It is one of a number of Government initiatives to help champion high streets as the cornerstones of communities.

My great grandparents and grandfather lived above the family shop on High Street in Falmouth. The town centre is as important to the community now as it was then. It’s the life and soul of Falmouth.

Voting is incredibly important as because, along with a visit from expert judges, it makes up 50% of the final decision as to who should be crowned the Great British High Street of the year.

You can vote by visiting this website http://thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk/high-street-of-the-year-award. A person is allowed one vote per day in each category, which will be registered through the website using their email addresses.

Voting ends on 18th November so please share this good news with your friends and please get voting daily!

Finally, if you feel that you could offer support for refugees coming to Cornwall, please contact me.