Local authorities need to do more to ensure that small hospitality operators are not frozen out of city centre development projects, warns Simon Briault, of the Federation of Small Businesses.
Regenerating city centres with new developments, cleaner spaces and more shops, restaurants and pubs is a good thing. It creates jobs, increases prosperity and provides more opportunities for local residents. As a business organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses could hardly be against such development - but there is growing unease about the way in which it is being carried out and who is benefiting from it.
Whether it is because large retail and restaurant chains are easier to deal with, or because they can afford to pay higher rents, the worry is that independent pubs, restaurants and shops are being frozen out of new developments. It's an economic fact that these businesses put back a larger proportion of their profits into their local communities than their larger competitors.
With the vast majority - if not all, in some cases - of leases in new developments going to supermarkets, restaurant chains and large retail companies, the choice for consumers is being diminished. Independent retailers, family restaurants and local pubs are struggling to get a look-in, and the result is the loss of variety, local specialities and personal service.
But all is not lost. There is a growing awareness of the precariousness of independent shops, restaurants and pubs and a growing effort to protect them. This year 39 MPs signed a motion calling for the Government and local councils to protect small retailers and independent pubs and restaurants. There's also been talk of allocating a percentage of new retail space to independent businesses when developers hand out leases.
There are two factors that might help to ensure that the independent operators survive. First, small business owners themselves need to realise that competition from the big chains will be merciless, and they should adapt accordingly. This means providing customers with something nobody else can, whether it is a local speciality or a unique level of customer service. Second, consumers must realise that if they don't support their local independent businesses, then they won't be around for much longer.
Liverpool One, the £950m development covering 17 hectares at the heart of the city, will have two hotels and 21,000sq m of space allocated to restaurants, cafés and bars when it opens in 2008
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