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Reinvent the high street says Grimsey review

With the decline of bricks and mortar retailing, high streets and town centres need to be transformed into community hubs, according to an independent review.

Retail expert Bill Grimsey, former head of Wickes, Focus DIY and Iceland, has published his second review of UK high streets. His first review came out in 2013.

According to Grimsey, there is too much retail space in the UK; town centres, he said, need to be repopulated with libraries, housing, health and leisure facilities and public spaces as well as independent shops.

He told the BBC: “Forget retail for town centres, they need to become community hubs based on health, education, entertainment, leisure and arts and crafts. We must act now.”

This year has already seen some major retail closures and restructurings as consumers increasingly shun the high street in favour of online shopping.

Bill Grimsey said: “The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations and CVAs (company voluntary arrangements) for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown.

“Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history, which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21st century. Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks … they must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there.”

Grimsey’s new review makes 25 recommendations - including giving local authorities more powers and replacing business rates.

Responding to the review, a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “The current business rates system is unsustainable, has not kept pace with the 21st century economy and is preventing the transformation of the high street at a time when it is under considerable pressure. We need a wholesale modernisation of the business taxation system to relieve the burden of this disproportionate tax on retail businesses.”

Martin Tett, economy spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “We are pleased that the report backs our calls for councils to have more powers and flexibility, particularly in relation to planning, to help shape and deliver vibrant town centres.”