AMID talk of a crisis on Britain’s high streets, people in local government often feel they are being blamed for things beyond their control.

Councils collect business rates, but they do not set them.

They see empty shop units, but rarely own the sites themselves.

They have some responsibility for rough sleeping, but insist they cannot solve a complicated problem single-handed.

Cllr Philip Broadhead, Bournemouth council’s cabinet member for economic growth, says these are national issues – and that the town is doing better than most.

“People do tend to focus on Bournemouth centre, which as far as town centres go around the country is pretty successful,” he said.

The council has organised regular “round table” sessions with retailers in order to understand their perspective.

Cllr Broadhead said it was clear the industry was frustrated by high rents. Landlords’ property portfolios were valued on the basis of “achievable rents” – and it was in their interests to keep those rents high on paper, rather than cut them to fill the shops.

Business rates are a major concern for the industry. “Nobody is lobbying government harder than us,” said Cllr Broadhead. He had “frank discussions” with business secretary Greg Clark at the last Conservative conference.

Chris Shephard, the council’s head of economic development and sustainability, points out that rate relief is available to a “significant number” of local businesses.

“That rate relief has come back through the system and that’s a good thing for small businesses. It’s small steps,” he said.

Rough sleeping and aggressive begging have been highlighted in a survey as one of visitors’ top complaints about the town centre.

The authority argues that this is another national problem, and that the needs of rough sleepers are complex.

“We have an outreach team that goes out at five in the morning to all the rough sleepers,” said Cllr Broadhead.

“They offer accommodation and most of them will say no.

“I can’t imagine there are any rough sleepers that haven’t been offered help. A lot of them don’t want to take it for whatever reason.

“The team do an absolutely brilliant job on that.

“There’s a small cohort who come in and out of the system. There are a lot of people who have a couple of days rough sleeping and get sorted out.”

The council tends to be criticised simultaneously by those who want more done for rough sleepers and by those who want them removed. “Particularly if they’re on private land, there’s absolutely nothing we can do. We’re doing the things we can,” said Cllr Broadhead.

“It’s very hard being blamed for something that we’ve got absolutely no power over.”

Another top concern in public surveys is the price of parking in the town.

Cllr Broadhead points out that councils need to balance their budgets and says cuts to car park charges would affect vital services. Market forces will influence charges, he said. “If you ever see car parking numbers fall, then we’ve gone too far,” he added.

“You see people saying, ‘I don’t come to Bournemouth any more, I won’t pay for parking’. It’s not borne out by the figures.

“If you could wave a magic wand and make car parking free across Bournemouth tomorrow, I think all of us would do it. But it’s one of the sources of income we have.

“We are a town centre, we’re a tourist resort and we have to make a conscious choice to how we zone our car parking,” he added.

The council does need to promote its cheaper car parks, he said. “A few years ago, because there’s not enough parking near the beach, we had to zone the parking – so the Pavilion is essentially our tourist car park and more expensive, and then we have Avenue Road and Richmond Hill, which are town centre car parks which are much cheaper.”

If a council’s powers are limited in so many areas, what it can do?

Cllr Broadhead points to the success the town has had in driving up footfall through festivals and events, with the council working in partnership with its business improvement districts (BIDs) and private companies.

“The footfall figures we’ve had for Bournemouth were dramatically up over Christmas. Really very positive,” he said.

But he points out that figures rose by anything up to 20 per cent, even before Christmas. “People will say ‘Just because more people are in the town centre, it doesn’t mean they’re shopping’ – but I’d rather be saying we’re 20 per cent up than not.

“If you give people a reason to come, they will come. If you’ve got people there, give them a reason to come into your shop.”

Work has begun on pedestrianising Beale Place as a public space. Chris Shephard said: “How can we create the right environment to enhance the high street and hopefully create a new space for more events and festivals as well as creating a nice area that’s safe and clean and well-designed that other parties will want to invest in?”

Footfall information can also be used in more sophisticated ways. “The cameras tell you how many feet are coming down the road. The next step is to provide some of the data. Who is it? What demographic are they?” said Mr Shephard.

Mobile phone signals can be used to map the pattern of shoppers’ movements around the town. And the town will be increasingly “zoned”, with different areas having a different focus and atmosphere.

Cllr Broadhead says the town has huge potential. “I do sometimes feel I’m a bit OTT as a cheerleader for Bournemouth but I do think that’s my job,” he said.

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