This morning I hosted a breakfast meeting with shopkeepers on Upminster’s Station Road, Corbets Tey Road and St Mary’s Lane to discuss the issues most affecting the health of the local high street.
Held in the offices of local solicitors firm, Pinney Talfourd, the meeting was attended by a wide range of businesses, from small retailers, services and café owners to Marks & Spencer and long-standing Upminster institutions, Roomes Furniture & Interiors and Roomes Stores.
The high cost of business rates and competition from online retailers was raised as a big concern. I discussed the work carried out by government to simplify the rates system and change taxation on digital giants but agreed to push for further action to bring down the tax burden. Policing visibility and shop security were also common worries, and while my team and I have already made representations on retail crime to the Borough Commander, we have offered to help coordinate further meetings with ward officers.
The closure of bank branches, empty shop units and the council’s new parking charges were also seen as factors in driving shoppers to venues like Lakeside. The removal of the thirty-minute free policy was of particular concern to retailers, and we have encouraged businesses to provide figures for the impact on trade which could be shared with the council. Successful efforts among Hornchurch retailers to set up the Hornchurch Town Team to brand the shopping area and coordinate community events were discussed as a potential model for Upminster to follow.
High streets up and down the UK face a series of pressures from changing shopping habits and an overly burdensome business rates system to local factors like parking charges. This is not just a problem for individual business owners but represents a challenge to communities that see a thriving local high street as essential to maintaining key local services and retaining a sense of heart to an area. I am keen to help Upminster’s shopkeepers in whatever way we usefully can to keep on the high street the kinds of local products, services and meeting places that residents so value.