14.5% of Harrow’s shops are closed
Local campaigner PraxisReform has surveyed over 500 of Harrow's retail premises and found that only 85.5% of them are actively trading.
Back at the start of 2013, PraxisReform visited neighbouring boroughs to Harrow, and afterwards felt that High Streets in Harrow were worse hit than surrounding areas.
Then, after seeing a number of news articles originating from Harrow Council, claiming that with help from retail guru Mary Portas, Harrow's shop vacancy rates were amongst the lowest in the country, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested as the source of these figures.
None of this chimed with PraxisReform's experience, so he went looking for evidence independently to confirm or deny the council's claims. It emerged that Mary Portas wouldn't comment on any involvement she may or may not have had with Harrow Council, and the ONS explicitly denied any knowledge of having carried out statistical analysis of shop vacancy rates in Harrow.
"I'd heard a lot of stories about how the Internet, the global recession and large out-of-town shopping centres were taking business away from local High Streets, but until I compared Harrow to surrounding boroughs, I didn't realise how badly hit Harrow was"
"Shortly thereafter, I kept seeing articles authored by Harrow Council, where Keith Ferry or some other Council Panjandrum would claim that Harrow had very low shop vacancy rates compared to the rest of London, and I felt that this claim didn't match my own experience"
"I've previously highlighted many half-built constructions aroundHarrow that the Council seemed to have forgotten about, but up until now, I didn't have solid evidence to back up my gut feeling that Harrow's High Streets were going down the toilet"
The survey stretched from Harrow Weald's Bus Garage to Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station, and encompassed all the side roads which had parades of shops visible from the main shopping area.
This is the area which PraxisReform considered represented the "heart" ofHarrow, because those roads contain such a high density of transport infrastructure and amenities, and thus those will be the areas that visitors, tourists and residents are most likely to encounter when travelling to, or around, Harrow.
Now, having produced this evidence, Harrow's council is invited to double check the accuracy of the findings, and start owning up the fact that the London Borough of Harrow has been consistently let down by successive councils of all political colours.
The council's efforts to attracted extra shoppers to the town centre so far have been nothing more than short-term gimmicks, with no lasting benefits.
What Harrow really needs is:
1) More parking spaces for visitors to the area, with parking charges that are competitive with those charged by privately owned shopping centres
2) Action to curb extortionate rents, and disincentives for landlords to leave shops empty
3) Cuts in business rates for people starting new small businesses in the area
The same survey will be repeated in a few months time, so see if there has been any improvement to the number of shops open for business in the borough.