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Letters: Let’s rejuvenate city-centre shopping with an out-of-town levy

Your article shows town-centre shopping in decline (Prepare for boarding: high streets suffer as shoppers go out of town, 8 September). The provision of copious free parking in large, out-of-town retail developments unfairly disadvantages town-centre retailers. The public also subsidises these stores and free parking by absorbing the costs linked with car-dependent shopping: roads to reach the stores, congestion, pollution, ill health, etc. Such a subsidy for out-of-town retail development could be removed by introducing a retail parking levy, similar to the workplace parking levy in the Transport Act 2000. So far, only Nottingham aims to use this levy, planning to raise £14m a year for 23 years and spend it on public transport. Let’s see the localism bill amended so cash-strapped local councils can introduce a levy to help town centre regeneration. Sign a petition to the government at
Andrew Wood

• Your statistics about Wandsworth town centre are misleading, taking little account of the transformation in the town centre that will see hundreds of new jobs created. How people shop has changed dramatically since the 70s: they do not wander a street to visit individual shops in turn, but the £50m of private investment being pumped into Wandsworth will encourage people to remain in the heart of the town, to the benefit of all who trade there. The Local Data Company’s count of empty stores equates largely to a section of the centre with shop units that no longer suit retailer needs; it has been intentionally vacated to facilitate an exciting redevelopment project that will provide Wandsworth with its own department store.
Tim Haden-Scott
Director, Metro Shopping Fund (owner of Southside Shopping Centre, Wandsworth, London)

• You fail to lay part of the blame for the problems facing UK high streets on the major corporate landlords who have bought up the majority of Britain’s retail space and then charged ever increasing rents, squeezing most independent and family businesses till they leave the sector. The only companies able to pay these rents are, themselves, parts of corporate entities and they have to make ever higher returns to justify paying these exorbitant rents.

Two examples will help to illustrate this – In the UK we have a preponderance of major, branded restaurant chains rather than the small, family-owned restaurants you find on the continent. In France or Italy, families who will have owned their premises for many years and probably paid off their mortgages will not need to recover these expenses any more in their prices. In many of our public spaces high rents and large branded businesses have squeezed out small traders. At East Croydon Station (landlord presumably Network Rail) there are six or seven retail outlets that all sell bottles of fizzy drinks for around £1.49 (or two for £2.50) when a can of the same drink (in a more useful size) would cost the retailer a few pence.

This business culture (of landlords and retailers) seems to seize every possible opportunity to extract as much as possible out of consumers. This is poisonous at the best of times and totally unsustainable in a recession.
Alan Gavurin
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