Chamber Chat with John O'Neill
Lancaster is one of 11 heritage cities in the country, and I believe this gives us quite an advantage in developing our future tourism potential, especially with the discovery of more Roman remains near the Priory. Due to our geographical location, we have been mainly spared the brutalist architectural schemes of the 60s and 70s and thus we have been preserved relatively intact. This, I believe, makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.
Also, even though conditions on the High Street have been tight since the 2008 financial crisis, shops in the central area have been filled relatively quickly. This is helped by having no large retail parks in the vicinity, and the development of the Canal Corridor proposal shows there is an appetite for more retail and leisure space in Lancaster largely due to the lack of capacity matched to demand in the city, and the distance to other centres.
Business rates are set by Central Government and not by Lancaster City Council, and councils have very little manoeuvre room when it comes to applying rate relief, most often it comes down from Westminster, such as for flood-affected businesses in December. It is worth remembering that, from April 2017, businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 per annum or less, will qualify for 100% rate relief. This will help many of the smaller retailers.
Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce and Lancaster BID have had discussions with the Council about the empty units and how this situation can be alleviated. Some of the initiatives being discussed including wrapping the windows of empty units. This has been tried successfully in other parts of the country and makes the High Street a more attractive environment. Solutions will be found and sometimes the most obvious are also the most simple, or radical.