I HAVE a problem. I look after the affairs of a 75 year-old pensioner in poor health who owns one of the 12 empty shops in Standish Street. Because of the change in the business rates threshold, he is now having to pay £190 a month of his £800 pension and disability benefits to Burnley Council in business rates on top of his domestic rates.
I’ve looked at ways of reducing this bill, one obvious way being to apply for change of use to residential with the idea of converting the building into three student flats to help with the shortage of such accommodation in Burnley. I spoke to planning: the fees are £385 but it would definitely be refused!
The reason is that Standish Street is regarded as a “secondary retail area”. Forgive me, but how can a street with so many empty shops be called that? Standish Street has been in decline for some time, ever since the road layout was changed. The shops not in use have mostly been empty for some time. The agent for a lot of these shops tells me they are not receiving inquiries for them. The one shop they have managed to let in the last three years was open for just six months before going bust.
I approached MP Gordon Birtwistle and he has been very helpful. He was sent a letter from Kate Ingram, head of economic regeneration in Burnley. This letter is very upbeat, insisting there is good footfall since the street is a link between Anchor retail park and the town centre, but that’s been the case for years, it has not stopped the decline. I’ve spoken to Kate and was amazed to find she did not know how many of the Standish Street shops were not in use, and would not hazard a guess. Apparently hopes are pinned on the production of a report that is not due for some time on which future planning decisions will be based.
Here’s the reality – the decline in high street retail is mainly caused by the rise of online shopping and supermarkets. The economic climate is not the main cause. Far wealthier regions than Burnley are suffering from retail closures. I’m a prime example – I will only go into Burnley if absolutely necessary; shopping is delivered for £3 and pretty much everything else I need I buy online. This is not going to change, it’s going to get worse as the figures for internet spending are rising year on year. If the powers that be at the council don’t get on with it and grasp this particular nettle, who knows what state the town centre will end up in? We have perfectly good buildings steadily decaying since they are just a financial drain on the owners. Without a commercial use for them there is no future.
Remember Mothercare, Woolworths, Focus, Blockbuster, Comet, HMV, TJ Hughes, JJB Sports, Jessops and so on?
Of course you could say it’s a matter of opinion – but I offer mine based on evidence plain to see and for free. I wonder what these fancy reports are costing us?