I want to start some real debate about the state of our town centres. So much has been written about the demise of the high street, the attitude of the out of town supermarkets, the role of internet shopping and the lack of investment in small business, but nobody, as far as I know, has come up with a consolidated set of answers to an ongoing problem. There needs to be a manifest for action which acts as a template for all towns wishing to revitalise their local centre.
Verdict Research say that retail expenditure is still predicted to grow by 1.2% over the year but this is the third lowest rate in 40 years. Something must be done.
My walk to work is a dismal march past boarded up shops and pubs, ‘closing down’ sales, coffee shop chains, hairdressers, banks and charity shops. Recent closures have been two pubs, an independent book shop which closed as soon as a national bookstore/stationers arrived, two shoe shops (one of which is a chain), two dress shops, two independent opticians which closed shortly after a national chain opened its optician services in the town, Clintons cards and Blockbuster. This role-call doesn’t exactly encourage new retail enterprise in the area. Indeed the lack of shops has driven people away
This pitiful sight is often blamed on the convenience of the large supermarkets of which there are two sitting alongside the boarded-up shops on the edge of the high street. We are also fond of blaming the internet, people like me who find prices online more appealing, and the occasional grocery order a real time saver. Sir Terry Leahy, former Tesco’s boss speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island discs described the growth of the supermarket and the closure of small shops as ‘part of progress’. His comments may have been obtuse and offended some people but I suspect he is not wrong. I am not alone in embracing the progress of the internet and inadvertently demanding the growth of supermarkets because I like the choice, the wide selection of products and of course the competitive prices.
The lack of support for small businesses has to be looked into as a further reason for so many closures. The banks have failed small businesses where they could have delivered better advice, landlords’ rents are squeezing the margins of many high street businesses and we could certainly do with a reduction in business rates.
Here are a few ideas to regenerate our dying town centres, please add more in your comments:
- Firstly, most importantly make an effort to shop there, be proud of it, own it.
- Town centre car parking to be affordable for businesses and shoppers
- Reduction in business rates Mr Osborne
- Place a ceiling on town centre rents, landlords need to be fair to get a fair return
- Attract pop-up shops from the larger retailers who can afford to market these ventures and draw people into the high street
- Attract local producers with quality products
- If the town has a reputation for a particular type of business brand it and market it (e.g if it has a strong artisan retail community, or known to have live music in its bars and restaurants)
- Encourage retailers to deliver good customer service.
- Empty offices above shops and businesses to be converted into affordable accomodation and executive flats to create a vibrancy in the town centre and customers for the shops
- Attract more restaurants and wine bars to serve the new residents and create a safer and more lively and happening feel in the town.