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RETAIL CLOSURES: Labour announce plans to save the High Street

 

West Midlands high streets are some of the most impacted by shop closures across Britain, with the region seeing -2.2% of store closures in the first six months of the year. 

However, town centres like Halesowen, Solihull and Stafford are weathering the storm by showing how shopping destinations can adapt in the current climate as they see net growth or no closures year to date.

Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor visited Birmingham City Centre on Monday and promised that a vote for Labour at the May elections will mean a “bright future for Britain’s high streets”.

On a visit with Labour’s candidate for West Midlands Mayor Liam Byrne, Dodds launched Labour’s five-point plan to “put communities first” and support Britain’s proud high streets.

Calling the loss of the city’s flagship John Lewis store “heartbreaking” and condemning the Conservative Government for “washing its hands of our high streets” over the last ten years, in a speech in Birmingham the Shadow Chancellor argued for urgent action to support high streets across the West Midlands and the UK.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, said:

“In the ten years before the pandemic hit the West Midlands lost over a thousand shops.

"The pandemic has hit Birmingham hard, with footfall in the city centre taking longer to recover here than anywhere other than London and Glasgow.

“For our country’s second city, this loss of custom and shops is devastating.”

“For some of our smaller towns, it’s existential.”

Liam Byrne, Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor said:

'Our small businesses are going to be hit hard by the coming recession, and that’s on top of what we’ve already lost.

'Under our Tory Mayor, we’ve already been hard hit. It’s not just the John Lewis that’s closed at Grand Central

'Across the West Midlands our high street vacancy rate is up, with nearly 1 in 6 shops now empty. In some of our suburbs it is higher.

'This is much higher than London where only 1 in 10 are empty, or the South East where it is 1 in 9. We can’t go on like this.'

Dodds committed Labour to:

- Stop the Conservatives selling off Britain’s high streets for low-quality housing, by scrapping new planning rules.
- Empower councils to fill empty shops with new businesses to breathe life into town centres.
- Challenge the government to use Tax Day on 23 March to level the tax playing field for high street businesses and online firms.
- Establish a High Streets Fightback Fund to help businesses hit hard by the pandemic get back on their feet.
- Protect family finances by reversing Rishi Sunak’s economically illiterate hammer blows to people’s pockets.

SHOP CLOSURES

According to research compiled for PwC by the Local Data Company (LDC), between January and July, a total of 261 shops closed at the region’s main shopping destinations, compared to the same period in 2018 when 223 shops closed.

The net difference between store openings and closures in H1 2019 has increased to -113, compared to a net loss of -89 stores in H1 2018, -33 in H1 2017, and a net loss of -45 in H1 in 2016, representing the highest net decline in the last four years.

The number of shops in the region has fallen from 5,177 in January to 5,064 in July.

The half year net decline in the West Midlands of -2.2% is greater than the average on Britain’s high streets of 1.83% - which is the highest since records began. The Midlands was one of the most impacted parts of the country by store closures, with the West Midlands (-2.2%) and East Midlands (-2.1%) placed second and third respectively for percentage of store closures after Wales.

Wolverhampton experienced the greatest impact across the region’s cities with a net loss of -13 stores with six opening and 19 closing. This was followed by Birmingham with a net loss of -10 stores with 38 openings and 48 closures. Coventry saw a net loss of -9 stores with 10 openings and 19 closures.

However, the high streets of some of the region’s towns are bucking the trend with Halesowen seeing a net growth of one store and Solihull and Stafford both maintaining their store numbers with no net loss.

Sarah Phillips, retail and consumer specialist for PwC in the Midlands, said:

“We are seeing retailers operating in an increasingly challenging environment and this is particularly exasperated in city centre locations where there is a high density of retailers. However, the rate of closures in the region’s cities is surprising at a time we are seeing significant investment and regeneration taking place across the region. For example Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes development attracting restaurants and bars is a magnet for eaters and drinkers on an evening. Birmingham is home to one of the largest young populations in the country and is seeing significant infrastructure investment. With Coventry City of Culture in 2021 and Commonwealth Games 2022 bringing an international audience to the region we can remain hopeful that this presents a huge opportunity for retailers to maximise.

“Town centre shopping centres, such as Halesowen, Solihull and Stafford, are bucking the trend with net growth or no closures. These are demonstrating how retailers can innovate and adapt nimbly to the environment. With the likes of Flannels opening in Solihull too, this will add to retail offering and put the town on the map as a shopping destination.”

The West Midlands saw some parts of the high street thriving with fast food takeaways (6), health clubs (3), restaurant bars (2), ice cream parlors (2) and toy shops (2) all opening new premises across the region. Whereas there was a fall in the number of game shops (-9) mens clothes shops (-9), take away food (-7) and charity shops (-7).

Continued Brexit uncertainty was a key factor in the downgrading of consumer spending projections in PwC’s latest Economic Outlook, despite strong wage growth.

Sarah Phillips added:

“Among the sectors hardest hit are game shops and fashion - these are two key sectors we are seeing moving online to meet changing consumer behaviour. While retailers need to keep investing in their high street presence and propositions to meet consumer expectations, it’s also critical that we find ways to ease burdens on retailers, keep investing in the high street and encourage new and different types of operators to fill vacant space.

“We are seeing growth in the high street in areas where consumers still want to spend their money. In the West Midlands this is in the growth of gyms and restaurants and bars. Retailers are reimagining their retail space to incorporate experiential and leisure facilities to attract a new generation of consumer.”


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