NW 2015: Better latte than never

After an extremely tough six years or so, someone seemed to 'flick a switch' at the start of 2014 which resulted in a far busier market place pretty much across all sectors in the North West. Stuart Hicks writes.

More enquiries and transactions were visibly coming through, although they seemed harder to 'get across the line' more often than not, with an innate caution still evident within the sector.

However, it's never all rosy and the sector now appears to be dominated by the lack of good quality stock across the region. I predict this will continue well into 2015 as construction ground to a halt for a long period. I don't think we are quite at the property equivalent of Tesco on Black Friday – consumers fighting over flat screen TVs – but demand is far outstripping supply at the moment.

Despite this, as I don't want to be the Grinch that stole Property's Christmas cheer, the level of enquiries is truly great news – the problem is that parties need the premises now!

Other good news is coming from the retail and agency sector with millions being spent on buying shopping centres, this is despite low development activity due to retailers such as Sainsbury's and Tesco putting the brakes on new superstores to compete with the lean Aldis and Lidls now on the radar.

So the discount end of the market is thriving and the big four are having to adapt. We are seeing that through the resurgence of local convenience stores across the North West and Liverpool. Who would have thought the corner shop would be back with such a vengeance, even if they do come under a corporate rather than an independent banner?

Big may no longer be so beautiful but the mega regional shopping centres such as the Intu Trafford Centre and Meadowhall at Sheffield are all holding their own and still proving a magnet for retailers and shoppers alike.

My memories of the recession receded even further just last Friday when I went to Tesco to grab something but couldn't get a parking space. If the cost of living is stifling the economy then someone should tell the consumer. We all know the nature of the retail market has changed – Amazon was selling 306 products a SECOND at the height of Black Friday and no Tesco checkout assistant in the world will match that, so the high street needs to change too.

To round off, what comment from me would be complete without a mention of Business Rates? I feel vindicated somehow following the review announced in the Autumn Statement last week. I have been banging on about the various issues surrounding business rates since 2008 like the classroom nerd; then all of a sudden all the big sixth form retailers have crashed my party, stole my best lines and are currently smooching the Chancellor into a corner to get their wicked way with his reforms. But one warning, the Chancellor slipped under the radar a limitation on refunds following successful appeals so ratepayers need to act now to avoid missing out.

As I have gone on the record before to say, the business rates model does actually work if successive Governments will stop messing about with it around the edges. Yes, it may seem unfair to those businesses that need premises to compete with online equivalents but that's progress and the consumer has spoken. Businesses and retailers need to change their business models to meet demand, so why should Amazon and ASOS subsidise the likes of Selfridges or Harrods, who charge up to £9,000 for a gold plated bag of coffee beans! Who's the victim here again?

Happy Christmas and make mine a platinum sprinkled latte please!

Stuart Hicks is managing director of Dunlop Heywood

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