Since arriving in my role a couple of years ago the national prospects for town centres and their high streets has not been very good but thankfully Bury has bucked this trend and continues to do so.
The Government states it is committed to helping our town centre businesses survive and flourish and asked Mary Portas to look at the problem and come up with solutions. Within her detailed report she raised the issue of the completely unfair business rates systems for town centre businesses who are paying more per square metre than Amazon are in their huge warehouses, but HM Gov continues to make no changes to business rates and address this inherent unfairness
Mary also raised the issue of car parking charges and how these were deterring people from coming into town centres. As readers will know well, this has been an issue that BID4Bury has been campaigning about for over a year with some success. You can therefore imagine my shock last week when I discovered Suffolk County Council said it intended to impose a £1 charge after 6pm on Angel Hill and the Buttermarket from next month, but I am delighted that they have now seen the error of their ways and won’t now be introducing this unnecessary charge.
It never ceases to amaze me that when a celebrity gets involved national and local government want to associate themselves with the news but never actually seem to want to take the specific action that will help most!
Despite friends like this, town centres continue to try to provide what the public wants and I am delighted to see that the National Federation of Women’s Institutes is looking to adopt ‘tackling the decline of high streets and town centres’ as its campaign for 2013 and I am very pleased to have accepted an invitation to address the Pakenham branch on this subject next month.
Then, on Saturday morning, I read that the Daily Telegraph is also about to launch a campaign to ‘save our high streets’ and there was a piece from Terry Leahy, ex-CEO of Tesco. He identified car parking charges and the unfair business rates system as key issues that need to be addressed to support town centre businesses and try to give them a fighting chance against out of town retail sites, supermarkets and online traders. He also emphasised the importance for town centres to accommodate the requirements of the 21st century consumer and for there to be an emphasis on the ‘sociability’ aspect of a town. Bury is well appointed in this regard with Charter Square, Abbey Gardens and the great number of high quality food and drink establishments across the town. People love to meet up for a chat and a healthy town centre needs to provide facilities that are clean and safe to attract visitors
It is tremendous that there is all this support for our town centres from the ‘great and good’ but we also need the continued support from residents near and far to continue to come into our wonderful town and keep supporting our businesses.
-- Mark Cordell, chief executive, BID4bury