Today sees the launch of a new group that will encourage and help to secure investment in failing town centre retail premises.
The formation of the Distressed Retail Property Taskforce (DRPT) is a response to suggestions made by retail guru Mary Portas in her government-commissioned review of Britain's struggling high streets.
DRPT will be led by the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) and comprise experts from a number of the major real estate lenders, pension funds and trade organisations, including the British Retail Consortium and British Property Federation. Officials from government departments will be observers on the group.
By bringing together expertise from across the industry, it aims to address issues of physical degeneration, falling footfall, reduced investment and associated social decline in towns and cities across the UK.
"Empty or dilapidated property is a visible symptom of the struggle town centres are facing," commented Mark Williams, taskforce chairman and director of Hark Asset Management. "The underlying problems are complex and the challenges in tackling these issues are significant. As such, they can only be addressed if the right organisations and the right people come together and make it happen."
He went on: "Falling capital values and squeezed income streams have meant that many shopping centres and town centre retail properties now have a value significantly less than the level of debt held against them. Given current economic conditions, lenders are unwilling, or unable, to offload these properties and write off the debt, or to loan out more money to improve them. The negative knock-on effect on the wider area is physical degeneration and social decline."
The DRPT will first try to establish the scale of the problem and identify specific shopping centres and towns that are being affected. The group will then consider the issues around property lenders' or administrators' inability to invest in or sell on afflicted retail property and try to find ways around it.
BCSC president Peter Drummond said there was "an economic impasse in many places around the UK, especially in secondary retail locations. By working together to develop a full picture of the issue and its impact on town centres we'll be in a better position to uncover a workable, long-term solution."