By James Farquharson

If I were Prime Minister for a day I’d give Weymouth’s shopping streets the freedom to be successful.

We all know our town centre has a special role. It’s where we meet to create the ties that we value so much as a community.

While Weymouth’s ‘high street’ is faring no worse than many other towns, we can see it is struggling. Businesses come and go too quickly, there are too many empty units and some shops don’t help pull in the bigger spending families that would make the others thrive.

Unlike high street retailers, many online retailers don’t pay business rates and can often avoid corporation tax. Out of town retailers’ warehouse style facilities are designed to deliver what their business needs. They don’t have to compromise to avoid conflict with other users of the same space.

Some governments might try to fix the issue of failing high streets by taxing, regulating and banning online and out of town retailers so they face an equally harsh trading environment. By pulling their success down, high street shops would become relatively less worse off.

That sounds like it’d take a lot of public sector effort to do and, I suspect, there would be lots of unintended consequences of the policy that we would soon come to regret.

Instead, I’d let high streets create their own success by handing them over a healthy dose of freedom. I’m calling the policy ‘Free Street’.

It would be limited in area to Weymouth’s town centre retail area. Within the area, business rates and corporation tax would be removed entirely. I might even throw in the removal of VAT. Create a ‘duty free’ zone? Yes, that would see business booming.

I’d also give a local panel the freedom to create a far more flexible and agile planning, conservation area and listed building policy, one that maintains the character of the area while enabling changes that meet the needs of modern businesses and make the area more commercially productive.

And that’s it.

Let freedom in and the problem will fix itself.