Trading Posts: on Empty Shops

2802.tpost.jpg Now it’s really rather rare for Londonist fulsomely to praise a government initiative. Lambast and satire is more our style. But something rather encouraging has caught our eye from the Local Government Association. They are today calling for the government to enable councils to intervene in areas where commercial properties are lying empty. And they go further, suggesting a reduction in VAT and business rates to encourage start-up businesses and increase occupancy. Nine out of the ten London councils which replied to a survey recently reported an increase in empty shops: our lovely bustly high streets are dying.

Conspicuously abandoned shops, offices and factories are not only a sad reminder of things past and enterprise that is no more, they are also a blight on the urban landscape. It’s obvious and simple. A busy parade of shops attracts shoppers and has shopkeepers queuing for property there: an empty and dilapidated row of shutters attracts graffiti, fly-tippers and the incontinent. Oh, and flickr photographers of course.

Councils have had varying success with the Empty Homes Initiative, although Londonist’s own experience of this scheme suggests that it is a great idea hoist with its own ticker-tape. An Empty Shops Initiative should be much easier to organise and far less controversial. There aren’t any really emotive issues: landlords with unused business premises should be happy to see their property used and potentially improved. The suggestion is that small businesses, such as this lovely fisherlady be given the chance to set up in such shops, or that local community and arts groups be invited to use the space for creative purposes. Just temporarily like. The Peckham Programme in Southwark is a good example of what a little *out of the box* thinking can do: the area is awash with wonderfully recycled properties.

When and why did they make running a business so hard? The only way forward is to adopt a more holistic approach to our high streets. To meet demand with supply. To relax the rules. To halve the number of jobsworth council inspectors (especially those with a Health and Safety bent) and (never thought we’d say this) increase the number of imaginative and helpful quangos.

What do you think? Is there a load of shut stuff near you? And, out of curiosity, if you were a shop, what would you be?

RIP Discount by emilywebber via the Londonist flickr pool.

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