Hampstead town centre ‘tzar’ could save struggling high street

Town tzars could be brought in to save struggling high streets from collapse using new powers.

In a deputation to Camden Council on Tuesday, proposals were put forward to use the Localism Act and suggestions made by celebrity retail guru Mary Portas in a government report to exercise greater control over Camden’s shopping precincts.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, an employment solicitor who is campaigning to save a fruit and vegetable shop in Hampstead, said the “tzar” could use a combination of powers to help residents stop their shopping parades from becoming high street clones.

“Whether it is a tzar or town team, they would have to take stock of the powers available under the Localism Act and the Mary Portas review and then work with residents and the local business community and look at the shop offering in Hampstead, particularly the empty shops, and use any powers they can to influence what kind of shops go in there,” she said.

Highgate Green Cllr Maya De Souza said the proposals could be used to bring greater shopping variety to Highgate Village.

Mrs Learmond-Criqui, who fought an unsuccessful battle to save Hampstead Health Shop from closure, also called on the council to rethink upward-only rent reviews of its 500 retail units, bring back reduced rents and suspend parking charges for a limited period on Saturdays to boost the number of people visiting the shops.

Brian Lay-Jones said, who has run Pure Fruit for more than 30 years, is set to leave the Heath Street premises if the council refuses to accept his reduced rent offer.

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He told the council: “You must look at the High Street, it’s getting worse. If my rents go up I am gone. Please think about this because I think it’s very important for the High Street’s survival.”

Finance boss Cllr Theo Blackwell ruled out bringing back concessionary rents, but said other proposals would be considered across the borough’s shopping districts. He added that the council could reinvoke a recession fund for businesses across the borough.

“I do think it’s important that we use your deputation to look, with Cllr [Sarah] Hayward, at how we look at these various pockets and how we as a council and landlord promote growth, business, jobs and can help business through the recession,” he said.

Mrs Learmond-Criqui said the Heath and Hampstead Society’s town planning sub-committee would be best placed to become a town team, but its chairman Frank Harding was less certain.

“I like the idea of landlords having to listen to residents, but I don’t like the idea of control and having dictatorial powers,” he said.

“The town committee is well placed and it represents a significant number of people but it’s something one would have to be careful about, how we represent the views of the masses. It’s politically a fantastic thought, but one that still needs thinking through.”