Doing something sensible about the High Street

Some 15% or so of retail sales now take place over the internet, with delivery vans not High Street shops involved. Some 15% of the country’s retail space is empty, This is not a coincidence.

We finally have something sensible being done and said about this:

Philip Hammond will use next week’s Budget to deliver a package of relief measures for the UK's battered high streets, including cutting business rates by a third for half a million companies.

The Chancellor is expected to say on Monday that he has listened to cries for help from the nation’s embattled shopkeepers by unveiling £900m in immediate business rates relief for 496,000 small retailers.

Mr Hammond will also launch a £650m fund to transform high streets by improving infrastructure and transport access. The “Future High Streets Fund” will help local areas switch under-used retail space into homes or offices, alongside a move to relax town planning laws that will make it easier to change...

The business rates stuff is blather, driven by a fundamental misunderstanding. Rates are incident upon landlords, not tenants.

However, easing change of use is indeed sensible (wonder where Mr Hammond got the idea from…). We tend to think that we’re short of homes at present. We tend to think we’re oversupplied with shops. Conversion from one to the other seems a sensible enough solution to both problems. No point in actually wasting the built estate.

The one puzzle is why this will cost money. If we free change of use, have market prices, then it shouldn’t cost anything at all. As relative prices change then so will uses, nothing else needs to be done, does it?