Top Harrogate property owner says 'flexible rents' may stop 'ghost town' in town centre
One of Harrogate’s leading commercial property developers says he would support the idea of flexible rents to support town centre shops and businesses if it was in the context of concerted action by the whole town.
Chris Bentley, the managing director of Hornbeam Park Developments Ltd said there was a risk of a “ghost town culture” unless the whole town came together to do something,
As highlighted in a two-page feature in the most recent print edition of the Harrogate Advertiser, the crippling costs of rents and rates in the retail sector are being seen increasingly as a risk to the future of Harrogate town centre.
Mr Bentley said property owners like himself did have a role to play for a better future and he would himself consider being flexible on rents for his own town centre properties - if local authorities and business bodies came together to take positive action.
This is when Harrogate Christmas Market will take place with 80,000 visitorsHe said: “Without collective and co-ordinated action, what is the alternative, businesses going bust, empty shops, ghost town culture, deterioration of buildings and historicalarchitecture? This is simply not an option.
“As a town centre property owner, I recognise the increasing need to be flexible and adapt to the changing face of the high street. Business rates and parking charges have to be addressed.
“But the question is, are the ratepayers of Harrogate prepared to cover the shortfall in revenues to accommodate reinvigorating and saving the town centre?”
But Mr Bentley is not the only one calling for a new approach to rents and rates in Harrogate.
For the first time, all the relevant authorities concerned with the local economy appear willing to pick up the baton of change and find a solution.
But Mr Bentley said the time for talking was over. There were, he said, “quick wins” to be made for the benefit of Harrogate which he described as “a special place with a bright future.”
He said: “Flexible lease terms, realistic rental levels, reduced business rates, reduced or removed parking charges and general maintenance and good housekeeping.
“These are all quick wins which could be implemented with minimum effort and provide the means to kick-start the growth of our town centre once again.”
While keen to support a raft of new ideas to improve conditions for traders in the town centre, he said he was opposed to further pedestrianisation. And he thought cheaper and free parking still had a role to play in helping the retail sector.
Mr Bentley said: “Forget ideas of further pedestrianisation of the town centre, it’s not the town centre which is congested, but the routes in and out and further pedestrianisation will serve only to compound this.
“The most successful retail streets in the world all have vehicular access. Take London’s Bond Street.
“Success breeds success and we all need to support and invest to promote the cause.”
Mr Bentleys said Harrogate still had the right ingredients for a bright future, if the town’s main groups came together to promote changes.
He said: “For our town centre to thrive and prosper, we need people to visit, to make it a destination, to provide a unique offering.
“We have the backdrop and framework to achieve this and we need to do what we can to invest in and promote the cause.”