Boxpark boss Roger Wade has warned retail is “on the edge of a precipice” and urged the government to intervene to save Britain’s high streets.
Wade, who founded the fashion brand Boxfresh in 1989 before becoming a landlord through his pop-up mall business, called for “a root-and-branch review” of the retail sector.
Speaking at the World Retail Congress, Wade called on the government to reform the “ridiculous” business rates system, urged retailers and landlords to end “us-and-them” relationships and took a swipe at retailers for “running away from their debt” by launching CVAs.
Debenhams is the latest high-profile retailer to resort to the insolvency process after struggling to adapt to changing shopper habits.
New Look, Carpetright, Paperchase and Cotswold Outdoor are also going through CVAs in a bid to slash rents and scale back their bricks-and-mortar presence, while Topshop owner Arcadia is mulling a similar move.
Other names such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld have disappeared altogether in the past 18 months, leaving gaping holes on high streets across the UK.
Wade said: “I think we are on the edge of a precipice. There are some fundamental changes that are happening out there. I don’t see it as a retail apocalypse, I see it as a process of fundamental change.
“The government needs to get involved. The archaic concept of business rates only really applying to retailers on the high street and not applying to a pureplay etailer operating a big box in the countryside is ridiculous. It’s crazy. We need to have government involvement.”
Although Wade urged ministers to play a part, he said retailers and landlords could also do more to help themselves.
“Clearly the ways in which we did business in the past have changed and going forward, the idea of landlords and tenants being adversaries are over. We need to come together.
“This ‘us-and-them’ relationship needs to end. Both parties need to come together and realise that they have got a common goal – for the tills to start ringing,” he said.
Wade added: “At this present time, there has never been a worse state between the relationships between tenants and landlords. In the UK, you’ve got big retailers who just seem to say ‘we’re going to have a CVA, run away from our debt and everything’s OK’.
“It’s unacceptable because, in the end, landlords are picking up that responsibility. If everyone is running away from their debt, the whole house of cards is going to come falling down.
“So we need a root-and-branch review of what is happening with retail. We really need to start thinking what high streets are going to be like without any shops? What is going to happen to our communities?
“We need to think about the repercussions of not having a community because shopping really is the heart and soul of our communities.”