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Sun tackles High Street decline

November 1, 2010

The Sun has launched a campaign to “save the British High Street from retail oblivion”.

Never on to shy away from tackling injustice and preserving the British way, the red top has dusted down the rusty sword of fair play and galloped into the fray to save our high streets from terminal decline.
 
Launching its campaign in Saturday’s edition (Halt this High Street Hell) the paper presented a “ten-point charter” which they “urge local authorities and government to act on in order to encourage shoppers back to our High Streets.”
 
Brace yourself for some groundbreaking ideas:
 
1. Ensure property and business rates are affordable so shopkeepers can keep their businesses on the High Street and new shops aren’t put off.
 
2. Make High Streets more attractive to look at. Planting trees or shrubs, installing more bins and having dedicated teams to remove fly posters, graffiti and chewing gum will make our High Streets cleaner and more enjoyable to visit.
 
3. Local councils should stop using car parks primarily as a means of raising revenue. Sky-high parking costs are putting shoppers off going to the High Street.
 
4. Local councils must set aside a percentage of the funds raised from parking costs to improve car parking options in and around High Streets. Shoppers need to see their parking costs being used to make car parks better lit, more accessible and more affordable.
 
5. Reward people for using public transport rather than penalising them for using cars. Shoppers who use the bus or the train could be rewarded with shopping offers or free transport into town from the nearest station.
 
6. Police must prioritise retail crime, for instance shoplifting, and anti-social behaviour. Gangs of yobs are spoiling our town centres by intimidating shoppers. The High Street should feel safe and secure for everyone.
 
7. Restore and repair damaged property as quickly as possible. Vandalism of shops, bus stops and public areas makes them unattractive and uninviting.
 
8. The Government should develop a clear strategy to address the increasing numbers of boarded-up shops in town centres and the accompanying decline in fortunes in some town centres.
 
9. Work on innovative schemes to attract new customers. For example, large employers in the area could encourage employees to come into town on their lunch break or after work. One business in Warwickshire provided a free bus service for employees on Fridays, which boosted town centre numbers and morale at the company.
 
10. Make grants available from either central Government or local authorities for shopkeepers to improve the appearance of their stores and get advice on running a business. Revamps to store fronts and a business mentoring service in Coventry led to 19 new businesses opening and almost 150 jobs being created.
 
What this fails to take account of is that the High Street as we remember it, or like to remember it, is dead. If people really wanted to keep the butcher the baker and the candlestick maker, they would have done so, instead they voted with their feet and went online or out of town.

People like to talk about how High Streets matter but when it comes down to it, to the average man or woman in the street, cheap prices matter more and small stores simply cannot compete with the major retailers.

New ways to breath life into town centres need to be found but while the Sun’s campaign taps neatly into a sense of national nostalgia, it doesn’t offer any realistic solutions.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. Unaplanner permalink
    November 1, 2010 10:57 am

    Presumably they will continue to take advertsing from out of town retailers and supermarkets?

  2. Hollanie permalink
    November 1, 2010 11:00 am

    I don’t agree that trying to get people back onto the High Street is a case of national nostalgia. Yes, people have chosen to shop out of town and in large superstores, and I believe this is mainly because the consumer culture has become so strong that people are willing to sacrifice anything vaguely local for something cheaper and easier. The supermarkets, in particular, have used this fact to their advantage.
    I think there is a need to try to shift people back to the High Street. I don’t think the Sun’s proposed measures will do this (surprise surprise!). This isn’t about pretty trees and nice shopfronts. It’s about getting people to think about what they consume, how it’s produced, where it comes from etc. It’s this change in mindset that I believe is needed to start to get people shopping local again.

  3. November 1, 2010 12:55 pm

    What we need is to make sure retail developments outside of town centres are only allowed where there is a clear demonstration that it will not impact on the town centre.

    It would be handy if the government could produce some sort of planning policy statement on this …….

  4. Another Planner permalink
    November 1, 2010 12:58 pm

    Localism will sort this out. Local people will want to save the high street, so Council’s will have to do it. End of…next…

  5. Cliff Guy permalink
    November 1, 2010 1:33 pm

    Anyone who bothers to access the original article will find that the ‘ten points’ involved the help of the British Retail Consortium, an organisation which does know a lot about the ‘high street’ and its problems. Some of these ideas are at present impractical for financial or legislative reasons, but others are already on the agenda of some local authorities. And offering discounts to public transport users seems a sound idea to me.

    • Michael Donnelly permalink*
      November 1, 2010 1:38 pm

      These are hardly new ideas though. “Restore and repair damaged property as quickly as possible.” “Make High Streets more attractive to look at. “

  6. Duncan permalink
    November 1, 2010 1:34 pm

    Would it help if the High Street was open when most people finish work…? What about actually creating conditions that attract people: it’s a bit depressing that comments 1-3 seem to be blaming the public and wishing to prevent them shopping where and when suits them.

  7. November 1, 2010 1:38 pm

    As demonstrated by the plethora of greengrocers and market stores offering goods at lower prices than the supermarkets, convenience rather than cost is often the key factor in the success of standalone stores.

    The convenience of large standalone stores stems from them offering a wide range of produce under one roof (though a similar range to the next such store, so across the UK, in aggregate, choice is actually reduced), and from such stores’ large associated car parks.

    To support the high street, at minimum, large supermarkets should only be allowed to be developed in town centres, and to prevent a fractured urban realm, stores must have a back of pavement streetfront entrance, and car parking should be provided in the undercroft of the store, or if that proves prohibitively expensive, at the rear.

    A more radical idea would be to tax per car parking space offered at retail stores. Whether this cost is borne by the consumer directly, or by the store, the revenues could be used to support local town centres. Another positive is that it would reduce car trips and the negative externalities linked to them (pollution, accidents, far fewer kids being able to play on the streets, less interaction between people and therefore probably less local social capital in neighbourhoods).

    I know from experience that retail impact assessments supposedly demonstrating the effect on local centres of new or enlarged supermarkets are incredibly easy to manipulate; in their present form, these are not the answer.

  8. Unhalfplanning permalink
    November 1, 2010 3:12 pm

    “These are hardly new ideas though.”

    True, but it doesn’t matter; they’re still valid points.

    The Sun has a larger readership than the average planning journal, so if it gets more people thinking about these issues, then that is surely a good thing.

  9. townspanner permalink
    November 1, 2010 3:26 pm

    The fact is that in the towns, the major ratail chains have the power and out of town the supermarkets hold sway. Small retailers just cannot compete with this. Couple that with the internet and it’s game over. We have to radically rethink land use in town centres to reflect this new reality. Consolidate what’s there and be creative with the surplus land. New parks, leisure space, homes. We can’t keep trying to hold back the tide.

    • Hollanie permalink
      November 1, 2010 3:37 pm

      And what of the local economy? Where are these internet retailers and suppliers to the major retailers and supermarkets going to be located? Overseas perhaps?? Or should we provide space for them more locally so that our goods don’t have to travel halfway across the world to get to us and we can maybe start to think about how ‘sustainable’ (although admittedly convenient) it really is to buy a banana for 5p from Asda. I believe this is what shops used to be.

  10. Duncan permalink
    November 1, 2010 5:37 pm

    I think townspanner (@3:26 pm) makes some good points. It’s not sensible to try to turn back the clock (except at the weekend): the traditional High Street is a product of circumstances that often no longer exist in the same way (people are more mobile, cash richer but time poorer, have internet access, etc.). That doesn’t mean that that there’s no role for the Hight Street – but it might be different.

  11. November 2, 2010 1:16 am

    I agree that there can’t be “high streets” if people only want to buy the cheapest product, with no other considerations taken into account. However, I think many people are looking for gratification and meaning in their purchases, and will be willing to help the local shop if it is convenient and reasonable in its hours, safety, parking, and willingness in turn to help other local businesses by stocking locally produced, crafted, or manufactured products.

    People will buy something other than the cheapest if they think it makes them more connected to a cause bigger than themselves. But shop keepers must be extremely helpful and courteous themselves, if they expect extra consideration from customers.

  12. chris baioey permalink
    November 2, 2010 5:37 am

    As with vaious UK elections, Murdoch’s Mouthpiece rides to the rescue of a failing Country, yet again…..

    This incredible level of foresight backed up with GCSE level methodology reminds me of the front page headlie (sic) in the Sun after the enigmatic Dame Margaret Hilda Thatcher was last elected -‘It was the sun wot won it’
    I rest my case.

    Nuff said

    Chris Bailey
    Urban Design Manager
    Taupo District Council
    New Zealand

  13. Reg permalink
    November 2, 2010 10:26 am

    I suspect there may be complementary roles out there for town centres and larger format retailing – if we can get the environment and the offer right for both.

    Shopping is now a leisure activity as well as something that “needs” to be done which means we need to make our town centres places where people want to stay for more than 30 minutes and will choose to visit – with parking regimes / public transport to suit.

    It means increasing the diversity of both the retail and the catering / leisure offer – and perhaps working to extend opening hours (my local department store has just started opening on sundays! woohoo!).

    Heritage and conservation come into this, as does marketing and as does championing the local (be it produce or the business itself in a Transition type manner).

    Some centres maybe will need to change and contract with more flexible uses at their fringes (LDOs?). Some may need ot expand. This is all part of what we all know as good planning…

    We’re wondering at the moment how we can get the local elements of this into our Core Strategy. Any ideas would be welcome!

    I think the mood and appetite are growing for improved centres and more local-ness, we just need to find a way to capitalise on goodwill and turn it into higher visitation rates.

    Otherwise big box retail will continue to grow and town centres where there genuinely is opportunity to decline.

  14. Tom permalink
    November 2, 2010 11:24 am

    The ‘high street’ people imagine does not exist, and never will.

    At best you’ll get national chains of smaller shops, such as Greggs rather than larger supermarkets. People want cheap prices, they want standardisation, to go into a shop anywhere in the country and know what they are buying. They also want convenience and supermarkets provide that by having all you want under one roof for a cheap price.

    Unless a town can attact enough people by other means, then a high street of small local shops will not work. The only indication of what people want which matters is how they vote with their feet and their wallets, what they say they want means nothing if they dont back it up with actions.

    Personally, I like supermarkets, I can get all I want, for a low price and be in and out in a very short time, usually with free on site parking. I’ll take that convenience over an artificially supported high street anyday.

  15. Unhalfplanning permalink
    November 2, 2010 3:21 pm

    Chris Bailey: “As with vaious UK elections, Murdoch’s Mouthpiece rides to the rescue of a failing Country, yet again….”

    Why shoot the messenger? Would the ten ideas be more valid if they had been published in the TImes, or the Guardian or the Independent, or by the BBC? (Answer: No).

    As Cliff Guy points out, the British Retail Consortium helped with the report, so it’s unfair to condemn it out of hand.

    Planners have been known to complain that the public and the media do not engage enough with planning issues, and presumably the Sun wouldn’t have run with the story unless they thought it might engage their readers in some way.

    The question is, will the planning profession engage with the Sun and try and help, or will it dismiss the campaign because it comes from the wrong newspaper, however valid it may be?

    It’s worth noting that the Sun’s comments on the article run to 42 (at the time of writing this) whereas this article has 16 comments.

    • Michael Donnelly permalink*
      November 2, 2010 4:12 pm

      I was rather pleased with 16 considering Planning Magazine isn’t a major national newspaper.

      • Unhalfplanning permalink
        November 2, 2010 5:07 pm

        To be fair, 16 is probably better than 42 in terms of comments/readership ratio. Although 42 is of course the answer to life, the universe and, well, everything really. 🙂

    • Tom permalink
      November 3, 2010 8:38 am

      Personally I’m going to dismiss it as it comes from the Sun, and hte fact that its a list any five year old could be proud to have come up with. Either the ideas are blindingly obvious or they are just repeating schemes and policies already in existance.

      But it does not matter, no Council or anyone alse for that matter, can ‘save’ the high street. People shop where they want to, and they dont want to shop in the high street, they’ll tell an interviewer they do, but they won’t actually do it.

      • Hollanie permalink
        November 3, 2010 10:43 am

        And our role as planners is…? Surely where the market isn’t working (and I’d suggest the growth of large scale chain stores and supermarkets at the expense of suppliers in poorer nations and the environment is a case in point), it’s our role as planners to try to address that and not sit back and say ‘well if that’s what people want then there’s nothing we can do about it.’

      • Tom permalink
        November 3, 2010 1:09 pm

        No its really not.

        Our job is not to tell people how to live, but to provide the places and spaces to enable them to live how they choose.

        If you want to have a highstreet with lots of local shops, then use one. If enough people agree with you then it will survive. But propping up a high street which is failing if not the place of the planning system, it would be acting against the will of the majority.

        In that situation its planning’s place to find alternative uses for the high street. Make nice public spaces, cultural or community uses for instance.

  16. Michael Donnelly permalink*
    November 2, 2010 3:22 pm

    The government has launched this guide today on preventing High Street decline http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/business-sectors/docs/h/10-1224-healthy-high-street

  17. Pickles' Onion permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:52 pm

    1. Authorities reduce their income.
    2. Authorities spend more
    3. Authorities reduce their income
    4. Authorities spend more
    5. Authoities spend more
    6. Authorities spend more
    7. Authorities spend more
    8. Err… I thought they already had
    9. Authorities/businesses spend more
    10. Authorities spend more.

    Not sure how this is going to be funded.

  18. Iain Paton permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:42 pm

    Traditional High Streets are based on long-established meeting and trading places. This has been circumvented over the last fifty years by the private car and extended trunk road and motorway network. Most retail parks are car-served with free parking, near to major junctions. This does not create a level playing field with the High Street, more so because public transport provision is usually pitiful. Local authorities should require parking charges for new retail developments and look at equivalent road charging for public roads leading to free car parks. The revenue should be used to subsidise public transport, which should be flat rate for town centres and their hinterlands. This is not draconian; it’s merely anticipating change that will occur anyway as the cost of fuel and driving increases.

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