POP-UP shops have all the warning signs of a government gimmick: a catchy name, the retail sector’s celebrity-in-chief Mary Portas, and swarms of immodest politicians looking to take the credit. But beneath the layers of puff and guff is a steely policy that could help carve through a stifling regulation that ties the hands of too many entrepreneurs.
The government is making it easier for business people to move into empty premises. Landlords will now be able to temporarily change the shop use for two years before having to apply for permission. In the past, landlords had to apply straight away for planning permission to change the use of their premises, in a process plagued with massive delays and costs averaging £1,200 (and up to up to £3,700).
Supply-side regulations have been exacerbating a demand-side problem. Although the death of the high street has been greatly exaggerated, there can be no doubting the pressure that out-of-town centres and online shopping pose to its future. According to the British Retail Consortium, 11 per cent of shops in town centres were vacant at the last count.
StartUp Britain – the national campaign for entrepreneurship – is opening its first PopUp Britain shop in Richmond today. PopUp Britain will be charging six start-up businesses £135 each for a two week trading period. It might just be one small step for deregulation, but hopefully its impact will be felt in a more dynamic high street and a giant leap in high street footfall.
However, all that glitters isn’t gold. The government also deregulated trading hours yesterday, but only for the duration of the Olympics. Chancellor George Osborne stated “we don’t want to hang up a ‘Closed for Business’ sign”. The antiquated trading hours – vehemently defended in the 1980s by an unholy alliance of church and trade unions – look set to stay. Why Osborne and co is hanging the Closed for Business sign back up when the athletes leave defies logic.