Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Bullish Ashley Sends Stark Message to MPs over Future of High Streets across Country; TYCOON REVEALS PLAN TO SAVE STORES

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Bullish Ashley Sends Stark Message to MPs over Future of High Streets across Country; TYCOON REVEALS PLAN TO SAVE STORES

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAEME WHITFIELD Business editor graeme.whitfield@reachplc.com

MIKE Ashley has called for a wideranging package of measures to save the UK high street, with online taxes, free parking and rate relief needed to give the retail sector a "massive electric shock".

In a bullish and characteristically outspoken session before MPs, the Sports Direct boss and Newcastle United owner said many high streets were already dead because the rise of the internet had taken so much spending online.

"They're in the bottom of the swimming pool, dead," he said.

Mr Ashley called for a tax for any company that had more than 20% of its sales online, saying it would encourage companies like his to prioritise getting people back into their stores, possibly by making it more attractive to use click-and-collect services.

Giving evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee as it looks to find ways to keep town centres around the country viable, he said the "mainstream high street is already dead", blaming "prehistoric" rents that were set before the rise of online shopping hit the retail sector so hard.

He told the MPs: "We have to realise that the high street won't make 2030. It's not going to be there.

"Unless you do something really radical and grab the bull by the horns, it won't be there. I'm sitting here voting to punish SDI Group (Sports Direct). That is not very normal - why would I do it? Because if the high street, miraculously, the minority can be saved, in 2030 I might still have a fabulous business.

Otherwise I'll end up being a web player like all the others.

"But you have to grab the bull by the horns now."

As well as an online tax, Mr Ashley said, towns needed to provide free parking and more park-and-ride schemes, while councils should be allowed to give retailers relief on business rates in return for "pound for pound" investment in high street stores. …

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