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No panacea for high street, say Sussex business leaders
The man trying to save failed firm Blockbuster from the scrapheap has criticised councils for charging businesses excessive fees.
Lee Manning, the lead administrator at Deloitte working with Blockbuster, accused councils of contributing to the demise of the UK high street with local charges. He said local authorities were “obsessed” with using high street retail as a cash cow rather than supporting the struggling sector and supporting growth. Last month Brighton and Hove City Council announced that parking tariffs are to be frozen and even reduced in the wake of public pressure.
Business leaders in Brighton and Hove suggested Mr Manning’s claim that councils were to blame for Blockbuster’s problems was “naive”.
Tony Mernagh, the chief executive at the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said that an intricate cocktail of factors led to the success or failure of high street businesses.
He said: “Parking is certainly one of them but so too is congestion, variety of the retail offer, quality of customer service, pedestrian accessibility, good public transport, on street security, cleanliness of the public realm and alternative artistic and cultural offer to complement retail.
“To single out any one of them as either a panacea or a plague is a little naive.”
Andrew Nichols, the owner of Andrew Nichols Interiors in Hove, and a former chair of Hove Business Association, said: “Whatever evidence we look at, it’s bound to be anecdotal. The reality is the difficulties retail firms are experiencing is a result of a combination of factors.
“Obviously parking charges don’t help and will certainly discourage casual shoppers from bringing their cars into the city.
“But while I’m not supporting the high parking charges in Brighton, just imagine the traffic chaos if the charges were suddenly reduced. “What we are seeing is a change in people’s spending habits. Why struggle into Brighton when you can now make many purchases at the click of a button online? “The answer must be for retailers to improve their online presence or find another way to entice customers into their shops.”
Mr Manning, a partner at accountancy giant Deloitte, accepted other factors such as online competition were important but said central and local government had done too little to help struggling stores. A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman refused to comment.