Covid-19 is requiring huge shifts in the conduct of everyday affairs. There are short-term fixes to overcome the crisis. There will be longer-run shifts towards a more resilient future. In between there will be innovations that were waiting to happen.
This blog highlights current measures at the time of writing affecting the health of the High Street.
High Street and Highway
Regulations already made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 effect previously unthinkable changes (until late September 2020):
- In Wales authorities must immediately close rights of way and access land where it poses a high risk of infection spreading (and where large numbers of people are likely to congregate or be close). The restrictions last until late September.
- In England non-takeaway sale of food and drink from restaurants, cafes/ canteens, bars and pubs is a criminal offence and swathes of ‘main town centre’ leisure uses (including cinemas, leisure centres and venues) must close. Linked amendments to the Permitted Development regime confer planning permission for the change to takeaway use for pubs, cafes and restaurants for a year
They do not, however, modify restrictive leasehold covenants or, yet, address the Courts’ approach to PD rights being switched off by existing planning conditions.
BIDs will be able (Section 79) to extend BID lifetimes until 31 March 20201 by delaying BID ballots due to take place this year. For the many BIDS that balloted in February/March, the resourcing constraints in local authorities and the lack of Business Rates revenue will have an impact.
Other high street measures include:
- Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
- The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property.
- Businesses in these sectors with a property with a rateable value of up to £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000 and businesses with a property of a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000 will receive a grant of £25,000.
- Business Rates holiday for many retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England (2020/21 tax year). Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.
- Protection of commercial tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19 from eviction. No business will automatically forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up to 30 June 2020. However, the government may extend this period if required. This is not a rent holiday; this is merely protection from eviction if they are unable to pay rent.
The Act postpones various electoral events, including neighbourhood planning referendums, over the course of the year (Sections 59-61). A Written Ministerial Statement published on 19 March 2020, stated that the Government will give its full support to returning officers and others running polls who decide to suspend their polls. To minimise the financial impact of any delays to neighbourhood planning referendums, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government will allow local planning authorities in 2020/21 to submit claims for New Burdens grant at an earlier point in the neighbourhood planning process.
With thanks to Amy Carter who assisted in compiling this blog post.