Senior councillor: Boost high streets by scrapping business rates

Downshall Primary School, alongside Aldborough Primary School hosting an Air Action Conference. Cl

Cllr John Howard felt the pandemic had accelerated changes to high streets - Credit: Ken Mears

A senior Redbridge councillor has called for business rates to be binned in a bid to support the borough's high streets.

Cllr John Howard, cabinet member for stronger communities, has proposed a motion to Thursday's full council meeting which also urges the authority to campaign for the borough to receive more government funding for high streets.

He told the Recorder lockdown made people realise how much they appreciate high streets.

"For somewhere like Redbridge, local high streets and town centres are really important in terms of civic pride but also jobs, social life and entertaining. Where they work well, they are a real focal point for the community.

"I think we need to do more to support them. High streets have been changing over the last 15-odd years and the pandemic has accelerated those changes.

"People really love town centres and the government and the council need to support their transition and make them places people really want to go to.

"Part of that is looking at business rates."

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The motion calls on the council to write to the government asking it to scrap business rates to "level the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses and online retail giants".

Cllr Howard added: "We should take the burden off small business owners who are working really hard and give them a bit of a hand."

A Treasury spokesperson said the budget reduced the rates burden on business by more than £7billion across the next five years.

“We think a tax on the use and value of commercial property remains an important part of a balanced business tax system and we’re making changes to make their operation fairer and more effective for businesses.”

Cllr Howard wanted the motion to bring a "renewed focus" for the council, including use of planning powers where empty shops are attracting antisocial behaviour or are an eyesore.

When asked if encouraging more leisure activities rather than retail was the future for high streets,  he said: "I think so. I think retail will always have a place on the high street but, in places like Redbridge, it is hard to compete with places like Westfield in Stratford.

"What we can offer people is somewhere nice for food, somewhere to socialise with friends and family and even places to work.

"Redbridge is a borough for a lot of people commuting into London for work.

"Where that's changing, maybe there are more opportunities to work in South Woodford, Barkingside or Hainault and use the local shops and help put money in local cafe pockets."