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MP's concern for high street after another Formby village closure

Formby MP Bill Esterson has expressed concern about the town's village centre after another business closed its doors.

Superdrug on Chapel Lane closed earlier this month (February) leaving yet another unit empty.

In recent months Royal Bank of Scotland, Reeds Rains, David Pluck bookmakers and Timpsons closed their Formby branches. The former Timpsons is set to become an estate agent.

The closure of Superdrug has been blamed on high rents and business rates and Mr Esterson said high streets needed support to thrive.

The MP, who this month (February) spoke at the Association of Town and City Management 2019 Place Management Conference, titled "Death of the High Street", said: "Another store closing in Formby is a huge disappointment for shoppers and staff. High streets need support and that is why Labour is committed to reviewing business rates and why we have a five point plan for high streets."

The MP has been in contact with landlords of empty Formby stores this week, learning that rent is in the region of £45,000 per annum for the former Superdrug store. Mr Esterson said: "My office has been in touch with landlords' agents this week. I am being told that they feel they are charging a fair rent at market value and that business rates are the problem. When commercial property is privately owned the options for intervention are limited, however an overhaul in business rates is desperately needed."

Labour's five point plan for town centres aims to rebuild Britain and breathe life back into communities. It includes scrapping ATM charges, delivering free Wi-Fi to town centres, introducing a register of empty properties, providing free bus travel for under 25s and overhauling the business rates system.

Business rates are set by central Government and local authorities have very limited discretion.

A recent re-evaluation of business rates led to a sharp increase for some businesses, and the Government awarded £300million to local authorities to provide discretionary rate relief. Sefton’s allocation of the Government funding is just £945,838 spread across the next four years, and is being targeted at ratepayers in properties with a rateable value of less than £200,000 who are facing a significant increase in their rates bills as a result of revaluation.

In very exceptional circumstances the Council can use its discretion to award a reduction in business rates on the grounds of hardship. The Council takes many factors into account. It is not sufficient that a business is not profitable.

Mr Esterson said competition from online companies had changed the nature of the high street. "In the future our high streets may need to move more in the direction of services rather than retail. There isn't a level playing field for our high street shops and an overhaul of taxation of the digital economy could help. Parish councils have a role to play too in supporting high streets and local businesses as this is a priority for most residents.

"I spoke at the Association of Town and City Management Conference and made the point that town centres need the right mix of offer. The high street must be enjoyable to go visit. Many stores believe cutting costs will help but it can be a false economy as that customer service that you get on the high street is what sets it apart from online. High street stores must offer a lot more, and look after staff.

"At the town centres conference I took part in a Future High Street panel where I said this was a massive challenge we need to respond to. I hope that reports of the death of the high street have been greatly exaggerated.

"Of course cuts to local authorities have not helped this situation. Business support cut. Senior planning officers cut. Money for cleansing and infrastructure cut. We need stability in local government and a planning system that supports town centres. Labour would deliver a boost to our town centres."

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