Covid-19 has accelerated demise of high street, says former Iceland boss

Covid-19 has “accelerated” the demise of high streets as shopping destinations, and paved the way for a new retail landscape, according to the former boss of Wickes and Iceland.

Retail expert Bill Grimsey said nearly half of retailers were in danger of “going bust” even before the pandemic, but a boom in online shopping has quickened the process, adding the “old high street is finished”.

He said the high street can only survive if the Government hands over more powers to local authorities and people who have a “vested interest in their communities”.

His comments came after the third Grimsey Review looking into the state of the UK high street was published on Saturday.

Among its 27 recommendations are calls to replace “outdated” business rates with a sales tax and for unused properties to be forced back onto the market to be bought by community trusts to serve their neighbourhoods.

It also called for the Land Registry to open up its database to give transparency about who owns town centres.

The team behind the report argued “only localism on steroids” could revive failing high streets.

Mr Grimsey told the PA News Agency: “Before the pandemic, 50% of businesses were in danger of going bust. Covid has accelerated and exposed the process of people ditching bricks-and-mortar retail and shopping online instead.

“People are starting to think differently, when they come out of lockdown, their attitudes will change for the better, they will start to appreciate their local communities, breathing cleaner air and enjoying the wildlife.

“They have realised there is a better life out there, built around those who have a vested interest in their communities and not by big distant investors, and I believe this has been highlighted by the pandemic.”

He added: “For this to happen, the PM, who has urged everyone to hit the high street to rescue the economy, needs to realise that this won’t solve anything, the old high street is finished.

“There needs to be a huge shift in power from Westminster to our local communities. Whitehall isn’t able to deal with this, and as they continue trying to influence a revival, buildings continue to lay empty.”

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