High streets need to be full of great offerings and bustling with keen shoppers

Torbay Weekly

As most of the population, I have been watching a lot of TV over the last year and so last night it was ‘The Big Short’ with Ryan Reynolds.

It is an amazing film and one that my husband and I have watched a few times.

It is particularly poignant for us as the film charts the horrors of the banking crisis and the actions by greedy and self-serving bankers that led to the horrendous crash.

The lies told and profited from were humungous across the sub-prime mortgage market in USA in particular, but also around the world.

This was gross mismanagement on a mammoth scale with nobody taking responsibility to police it.

We lost an eight-figure sum in one day and it changed our lives forever – yes, one hell of a lot of money.

The shocking outcome was that only one banker was charged with criminality – everyone else walked and are now practising the same shenanigans that brought millions of people to their knees financially.

Apart from the bad practise which is no doubt being repeated in one form or another, I would like to draw your attention to another major problem in our country which is hitting every high street in every town.

Business rates are the responsibility of the Government and the council to get right.

However, the rateable value is normally based on the rentable value.

The problem with this is, is that unless you are lucky enough to be renting your business premises from an individual or private company, you are likely to be renting from one of the very big boys’ pension funds.

Historically, only large firms and multi nationals have been able to afford the prime sites in high streets, most of them paying very high rents.

The multi nationals, of course, use their shareholders' money and tell them in their annual reports that the rents payable are the market norm.

This is why so many multi-national retailers have now failed, and their stores will be closed for good.

When we moved back to Torquay around six years ago, we tried to rent retail space in Fleet Street where there were numerous properties empty – and which still are.

We offered a fair rent to the landlords but were turned down as the landlords preferred to leave the property empty rather than accept a fair rent.

This is because most of every high street is owned by massive pension funds and like the sub-prime housing market, they don’t want to re-evaluate their properties, because if they do it will bring down the overall value of their funds. Ergo a vast number of empty retail properties across the UK high streets.

Pension funds and big commercial landlords should be forced to revalue their properties across the board.

Rent and rates have to reflect footfall and potential business on an annual basis.

So, for example the values should reflect the amortised seasonal footfall across a year – as businesses have to keep going and pay their overheads for 12 months of the year with or without footfall.

I sincerely hope that this is not another version of the ‘Big Short’, but the signs are already there.

In Torquay, we are building new hotels with great vigour, which is great to see. However, I am nervous because we have never filled all the rooms available in the area for decades and we are soon to have hundreds, if not thousands, more to sell.

Building any business, it is important to build on solid ground and not to mushroom too fast as that always leads to disaster.

Our high streets need to be full of great offerings and bustling with keen shoppers with disposable income before we start to think of yet more hotels – and don’t get me started on the lack of parking in Torbay!

You have to get the basics right first then you can start to build the dream factory.