The issue of candy stores and souvenir shops on Oxford Street will only be solved if the government plays its part in going after their owners, Westminster’s council leader has said.
Adam Hug said that while the council was making ‘great progress’ in tackling the issue, shops will simply move elsewhere unless the system behind them is addressed at the root.
As of last month, there are still 12 candy stores on Oxford Street, in addition to another 10 souvenir and gift shops and several large units empty following store closures.
Councillor Hug said: “The game that we are working with we are constantly chasing down trying to find who owns these properties – it’s a real challenge for government officers.
“We’ve already seen progress in raising the profile of the issue. We’re seeing landlords come forward with better options to fill their properties. Whilst there is a lot of concern about issues at the moment there is a degree of positivity and the footfall has rebounded really well.
“But ultimately the way we will crack this nut on Oxford Street, there needs to be more progress with central government to make sure they’re taking this issue seriously and helping go after the people who sit behind these entities.”
Tackling poor quality stores on Britain’s busiest high street is part of the council’s ‘dirty money’ strategy which has also seen officers attempt to crack down on the large number of empty properties within Westminster.
Recent data showed that over a quarter of Westminster’s dwellings are unoccupied, despite a shortage of housing and over 1,600 people known to be sleeping rough.
There are signs the candy rush is beginning to wane, following announcements from some mainstream stores that they are returning to Central London. Last week, music store HMV announced it would return to its flagship Oxford Street store replacing House of Candy.
Mr Hug said: “Ultimately what we are focused on as a council is showing the real world impact on our city as it exists in terms of the link between opaque money and empty properties that are left in some parts of town.”
Addressing concerns that the focus on Oxford Street was draining council resources into tackling similar problems elsewhere, including nearby Edgware Road, Hug insisted that council enforcement was not an ultimate solution.
“Candy stores have been spreading across the city, and they’re across the country and across Europe. There have always been tat shops of different types where we have concerns over the probity of the business, which is why we have a massive opportunity with the bills going through Parliament to actually give the tools to not only the council but the other agencies that are necessary to get to the root of this problem.”