British-Irish committee calls for more powers for councils to address high street decline

Newcastle in Co Down was among the towns analysed by the committee. Picture by Mal McCann
Newcastle in Co Down was among the towns analysed by the committee. Picture by Mal McCann

AN inter-parliamentary committee of Irish and British elected representatives has called for more government intervention to address the decline of high streets.

The British Irish Parliamentary Assembly’s economic committee has called for local authorities to be given increased powers to adjust business rates and for changes to alcohol licensing laws to allow small venues to capture the benefits of the night time economy

The committee, which includes MLAs and members of Parliament, the Oireachtas and Scottish and Welsh assemblies, made the recommendations after analysing a number of towns and cities across the British Isles. The case studies included Belfast and Newcastle in Co Down.

It identified business rates, online shopping, out of town retail parks and town centre access among the biggest challenges facing the high street.

The committee said that the building of residential housing in town and city centres should be encouraged through the rezoning of commercial and brownfield sites. It said more powers should be granted to enable local authorities to bring vacant properties back into use if the owners cannot be found.

It also suggested that a vacant site levy in the UK could be introduced.

More powers for councils to curate how urban sites are utilised in the city centre is also listed among the recommendations. The committee also said high quality broadband should be rolled out to smaller towns to enable the creation of more tech hubs and digital work spaces away from city centres.

Chair of the economic committee, Joan Burton TD, said the purpose of the report is to propose practical solutions at both a local and national level.

“The report outlines the practical action local government, business groups and communities can take now to help the high street. From leadership and community buy-in for regeneration projects to urban planning and targeted support for local businesses, there are many initiatives which can support businesses.

“It is important that we continue to attract visitors and increase ‘dwell time’, with that in mind public realm improvements are vital to help access to the high street and town centres if we are to future proof the high street.

“There are other initiatives which can revitalise the high street and help to rebalance regional growth, these include reviewing government policy on alcohol licensing and the rolling out of high-quality broadband and providing increased powers for local councils.”