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The two prime issues leading the retail debate


BCSC’s annual conference is shortly upon us, bringing together representatives from across retail property. The retail sector currently contributes in the region of 5% to the UK economy and BCSC provides an occasion to debate key challenges and opportunities for driving the sustainable growth of the industry.

With the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in a consultation period on devolving Sunday trading laws, I expect this, together with the sector’s ongoing call to overhaul the business rates system will be topics that will likely spark lively debate. Whilst neither is revolutionary in concept, both are of fundamental importance to the wider national economy, with the potential to deliver significant benefits for shoppers, retailers and communities.

As the global retail industry continues to evolve at such a phenomenal rate, it is essential that the UK retail sector keeps pace to ensure it thrives in this environment and can continue to play a key part in supporting national economic growth. As landlords, our direct interaction with shoppers and retailers gives us the ability to help drive growth by matching consumers’ appetite for flexible shopping and leisure options as well as our retailers’ desire to operate effectively in a multichannel environment, but backing from Government, in terms of implementing relaxed trading hours and local tax systems which instil confidence and spurs further investment, is not to be underestimated.

At Hammerson, the continued success of our UK wide shopping centre portfolio is predicated upon our ability to create experience-led, inspirational retail and leisure destinations that reflect changing shopper habits and offer something new and exciting for the whole family. Across our destinations that go beyond pure retail, we have seen Sunday footfall data over the past four years steadily increase. The rise in 24/7 online shopping and more catering and leisure businesses operating in shopping centres is largely responsible for this trend. Today’s modern consumer requires more flexibility in when and how they can shop, therefore levelling the field between physical and online trading hours makes sense to boost growth.

Considering that retail property’s iconic destinations attract visitors from far and wide, it is easy to understand how their performance impacts the local economy, directly and indirectly. We know that for Birmingham, Bullring has become an internationally recognised symbol of “Boomingham” and a major attraction within the region. Similarly, the ongoing development of Victoria Gate in Leeds offers exciting prospects, with the opportunity to capture £540m of additional spend from nearby Harrogate, and York, as well the city’s residents, students, and international visitors.

Whilst employment in the retail sector is often overlooked, it is also important to take into account the large and varied work-force the sector employs. The sector is Britain’s largest private sector employer, providing jobs for nearly 3 million people. Therefore, game-changing areas such as extended trading hours and a business rates system that is fit for purpose, will lead to much needed employment opportunities.