We asked small business owners in the Portsmouth area how high streets need to change  

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A ONE size fits all approach could be the key to keeping high streets and town centres alive, according to locals.

As The News launches its Love Your High Street Campaign with its sister papers across the country, traders and community members have told of the need for consumers to be able to run errands and have key facilities at arms length while shopping.

Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Picture: Ian Hargreaves

David Linington, who runs community website Emsworth Online, agrees that facilities such as banks need to be available to shoppers – three have closed in Emsworth’s town centre.

He said: 'Business owners have noticed a drop in footfall and I’d put that down to the loss of some of our key facilities like the three banks. If the doctors’ surgery does move that will affect things even more.’

Peter Hammond, of the Havant Civic Society, added: ‘People want to do a lot of things at once so the right facilities need to be in the same place.’

Havant Borough Council is part of a Hampshire-wide bid to join a government non-domestic rate trial which would see the council given the authority to retain up to 75 per cent of their business rates locally.

This means the businesses would still pay the same amount but the council could spend the money on high streets and town centres if it chooses.

Jackie Buckley, chair of the Waterlooville Events Team, said the campaign is a great idea and a key to people visiting town centres is putting on events there so those who attend return.

She said: ‘We’ve got the lights switch on on November 17 with music and a lantern procession, and a grotto in the library in December. We hope people will come back to do some shopping.’

In Gosport Liam Smith, manager at Katie’s Vinyl Bar, believes the town needs to become more varied.

He said: ‘We only really have one high street. Cities tend to have two or three different main areas but this is our only central hub.

‘If business rates were lower then that would help people to open new shops, but in the long run they need to have a sustainable business.

‘Saying that, if more varied and independent shops opened then they would fill the empty units in Gosport and more people would hopefully come shopping and therefore everyone would thrive a bit more.’

Simon Dampier, who owns Heathen Chemistry Records in Fareham, added: ‘One of the problems is the lack of information on business rates.

‘People can be put off from opening independent shops because they fear what the rates will be.

‘But in reality there is rate relief and other support and if people were more aware then this could lead to more people starting their own small businesses.’

In 2017 the government introduced the Small Business Relief scheme which meant businesses would not pay business rates on properties with rateable values of up to £12,000 – it was previously £6,000.

Havant MP Alan Mak said: ‘Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy and I am passionate about helping them thrive.

‘Next month my third Havant Small Business Awards, backed by The News, will showcase some of our best local firms from all areas of the constituency.’

Tristan Savage, from Strong Island in Portsmouth, said: ‘In many situations business rates are very reasonable for small businesses. However, they are driven up in 'popular' areas resulting in empty shops where independent retailers have had to close up.’

Car parking charges is also a factor that traders say have a significant effect on their businesses.

Melony Smith, from Marabellas Boutique in Portsmouth, commented: ‘Some car parks have ridiculous prices and don’t encourage customers to come into the independent stores.

‘The city council should introduce a Park and Ride into Commercial Road, that doesn’t just go through Gunwharf Quays.’

Fareham Borough Council leader, Councillor Sean Woodward, added: ‘Councils need to be mindful of the needs of traders when shaping car parking charging policy.

‘An attractive and vibrant town centre is an asset to any community and traders play a key role in the economy, creating employment opportunities.’