Next’s Wolfson: local councils stall UK growth

 
Kasmira Jefford
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THE CHIEF executive of Next yesterday slammed the “Luddite intransigence and incompetence” of a few local councils for delaying and rejecting planning for new stores and holding back Britain’s growth.

Lord Wolfson said: “In our dealing with local councils, it is noticeable that some are much more pro-growth and pro-jobs than others.”

But he warned that others “don’t understand that opening new shops and creating better roads and infrastructure create wealth.”

In December, Sheffield planners rejected Next’s plans for an out-of-town store because of fears it would undermine city centre investment.

The FTSE 100 retailer plans to add at least 250,000 square feet of new store space next year. But Lord Wolfson said this will depend on discussions with councils, which he said can take more than a year – longer than to build a new store.

Commenting on Wednesday’s Budget, Lord Wolfson also said more could be done “to take the brakes off” the conversion of struggling retail properties to residential after the government revealed it will consult on the rules around change of use.

He was speaking as the group delivered a 3.1 per cent growth in sales to £3.5bn, of which £1.19bn came from its Directory business, which grew by 9.5 per cent.

Retail sales were flat at £2.1bn. Pre-tax profit rose nine per cent to £621.6m. Profits for this year are forecast to be between £615m and £665m.