Love Your High Street: Our campaign gets support of business chiefs

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Business experts have backed the Express’ Love Your High Street campaign and said ‘radical changes’ are needed in how town and city centres are presented to shoppers.

Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce – which covers the Wakefield district – head of policy and representation Steven Leigh said people wanted to see leisure and entertainment as well as shops on their high streets.

Steven Leigh, Head of Policy and Representation at the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Steven Leigh, Head of Policy and Representation at the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

He said business rates that squeeze traders should be reconsidered and repeated the criticism that parking charges drive customers away.

He said: “Recent expert-thinking suggests that we should radically change the way we plan our town centres, and that equal attention should be given to housing and leisure facilities, sport and entertainment, as much as the provision of retail outlets.

“Business support organisations like chambers of commerce such as ourselves, continue to lobby Government for a fundamental review of business rates and the introduction of more fit-for-purpose methods of taxing businesses.

“Local authorities must revise their attitudes to parking and parking charges if they are to reinvigorate footfall into our town centres.”

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh.

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh.

Mr Leigh praised the work of business improvement district (BID) groups in promoting high streets.

In Wakefield, the city’s BID group has worked collectively with traders for the common goal of making the city more attractive.

The region’s MPs have also backed the campaign.

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said: ‘Our town centres are vital and our high streets are at the very heart of our communities. Too often across the country town centres are being run down - and I don’t think towns are getting a fair deal. Things like the Pontefract Liquorice Festival or Castleford Heritage Group events at Queens Mill help bring people into our towns, but we also have some great local shops and market stalls, and a strong sense of local community to be proud of too. Out of town shopping centres, big city centre investments and cut price warehouse online retailers can put pressure on towns - but that’s why we need the Government to overhaul business rates to cut the costs for shops and small businesses, as well as things like free public WIFI in our towns that Labour is campaigning for, to encourage more people to come into town.

Wakefield Mary Creagh MP said: “The high street is the backbone of Wakefield’s economy. Despite years of austerity I’m pleased it’s still punching above its weight – since 2012 business numbers in Wakefield have grown faster than average in our region.

“But our local shops face a triple whammy of rising rates, falling footfall, and huge uncertainties due to Brexit.

“I met with Elizabeth Murphy, manager of Wakefield Business Investment District, to discuss how they are promoting the city centre. I will continue to fight in Westminster for our local businesses.

“I am pleased to support the Express’ Love Your High Street initiative.”