Harpenden “blighted” by empty units

Harpenden retailers call on government to help the High Street

TWO Harpenden retail entrepreneurs claim that high rents are pushing smaller businesses to the brink, leaving a trail of empty business units in the town.

Craig Gibson, co-owner of Gibson and Powell Hair and Beauty, is calling on the government to do more to help independent retailers.

With 16 shops standing empty along and near the High Street, he and co-owner Kate Powell argue that it is time for the government to step in and implement some form of rent restraint. They claim that without such help, Harpenden will continue to be blighted by long-term empty units during retail hard times.

Craig said: “Many commercial properties in Harpenden are owned by investment banks. Rents were forced up in the last few years by the property boom. The boom is over but many are still charging very high rents and businesses also have district rates and other bills to cover.

“Some businesses in Harpenden have seen their rent increase 20 per cent every year for the past five years; others more.”

He said that while the business he co-owned with Kate was doing well and that they had just opened another shop in Dunstable, he was concerned that others in the town were struggling and could be forced out of business in the next 12 months, “unless something is done”.

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He added: “Ultimately local people suffer too; high rents mean that products that could be priced more cheaply are more expensive in order to cover the rent. Independent retailers then find that they just can’t compete with larger chains and are forced out of business.”

He added: “It’s a tragedy to see a beautiful high street like Harpenden blighted by empty units and to see the demise of independent retailers, while the government looks on and does nothing to help.”

Several business people have voiced concern to the Herts Advertiser about “greedy landlords” ramping up leases to about �20,000 per annum.