Council leader's plea to retail landlords as Harrogate looks to fill empty retail units

The leader of Harrogate Borough Council has called for local landlords to start thinking about how they can play their part in re-invigorating the region’s town centres and “see themselves as more than just recipients of rent”.

Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 7:54 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 8:25 pm
Harrogate currently has 48 empty retail units.

Coun Richard Cooper, Conservative, said the owners of high street buildings should “charge realistic prices” to help ensure they are re-let as part of a joint effort to create vibrant town centres.

At the end of September, there were 48 retail vacancies out of 489 in the centre of Harrogate, meaning the spa town is outperforming the average for Yorkshire and the North. But Coun Cooper, pictured inset, said vacant units were not being re-let as quickly as he would like.

He said: “We are keen to see fairer rents and rates for retailers at levels which support business growth.

“High street retailers, including our trademark independent shops, need a level playing field to compete with the major online retailers who don’t carry the same overheads. Landlords need to start thinking about how they can play their part in re-invigorating the town centre.

“They need to see themselves as more than just recipients of rent but as a big part of the team ensuring town centre vibrancy. Units will be re-let if landlords charge realistic prices. We are taking direct action too, we recently purchased a number of vacant shops in Knaresborough, that have sat empty for years - even decades - to try and improve the high street in that area.”

Coun Cooper’s comments come as new figures reveal how high streets in Yorkshire are being out-performed by the rest of the country on the number of empty shops and visitor rates.

On average 12.5 per cent of shops in the North and Yorkshire have been vacant since 2011, compared with ten per cent in the UK as a whole, while footfall has also been dropping at a steeper rate.

According to Springboard, a provider of data and intelligence on customer activity, the figures are part of a long-term trend of decline in visitors to the high street driven by the “digitisation of society”.

And in Yorkshire the overall average rate for empty shops masks some stark differences across the region. Successful cities like York and Leeds have vacancy rates of 6.2 per cent and nine per cent respectively, while in Harrogate the rate is just under 10 per cent and 13 per cent of shops are empty in Hull.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard, said the trend towards digitisation means that online channels are now used for browsing as well as services like banking and travel.

She said: “This reduces the number of trips made to bricks and mortar destinations which has meant that over the past decade footfall has declined by an average of -1.3 per cent per year.”

During the General Election campaign, the Conservatives outlined plans to overhaul the business rates system to help create thriving high streets.

They pledged to increase the business rates discount available to businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in 2020-21.

Measures to improve the vibrancy of towns are also expected to emerge from the Government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund.