Monday, 29 October 2012

Can we save our high streets?

In the Daily Post today Dylan Jones Evans, Economic adviser to the Welsh Conservative Party, wrote about the ideas put forward by the Welsh Conservatives in a bid to revive our high streets.

As we know even high streets in large cities and towns are struggling, but it's even worse in smaller towns and villages - the percentage of empty shops growing year on year, as more shops close due to either going bankrupt or moving to out of town retail centers.

Then there is the hassle of finding somewhere to park, a lack of choice, poorly maintained streets, tight household budgets and busy lives.

In other words without adequate footfall high streets are doomed to fade away.

And of course you have the large out of town shopping centers, with their big brand names in large convenient stores, with free parking and easy access. All approved by politicians of all parties - who now seem to be concerned about the demise of the high street.

But let me talk about the elephant in the room, in times of austerity, when money is tight, and we all work long hours to make ends meet, our first priority is to find the best price without hassle, and these days a growing trend is....the first place we look is on the world wide web, especially with more and more of us now owning smart phones.

The ONS in their retail sales report for September says the key points on internet sales are:
  • The average weekly online spend (Internet sales values non-seasonally adjusted) in September 2012 was estimated to be £507.8 million, which was an increase of 9.4 per cent when compared with September 2011.
  • The amount spent online was estimated to account for 8.8 per cent of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel.
  • More was spent online in the non-store retailing sector than any other sector. Spending online now accounts for 63.0 per cent of total spending in this sector up from 62.9 per cent in September 2011. In the food sector 3.1 per cent of spending was spent online, up from 2.7 per cent a year earlier. This sector has the lowest proportion of online spend in relation to all spending.

As you can read we still prefer shops for purchase of food items, though more of us are starting to buy online. And we know who dominates the food sector - that would be the supermarkets.

So being realistic any shop on the high street is going to struggle, even specialist shops, unless they can attract the footfall. And one way of doing so is to have a presence on the world wide web, offering a specialised quality service.

Therefore not sure how much tax breaks would really help, after all we would need to raise that money elsewhere - robbing paul to pay peter and all that. As for free parking in town and village centers is a good idea, but whilst paying for parking may discourage some, doubt it's the main problem.

To me the key to saving the high street is proper maintenance of them, a redesign including in many cases making them more car friendly - get rid of pedestrianised zones where they don't work.

But above all seek young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, and give them support and grants to open shops in their local area. Councils should have powers to take over empty shops and offer them to such entrepreneurs as starter units (like you have with industrial units). And the welsh government should ensure that high street shops have access to fast broadband.

We shall not see the traditional high street again, but that does not mean that it cant adapt and grow and be a place for the next generation of entrepreneurs in niche markets to find their feet and prosper.


The Red Flag said...

The High Street of old is a dead idea. It is not coming back and throwing millions in grants at it is pointless and a futile waste of resources.

The High Street of the future is services such as banks, post offices, solicitors, hairdressers etc, cafe/bars, takeaway food outlets, last minute mini-supermarkets and specialist niche things such as antiques. That is how they are evolving anyway despite the attempts by councils to turn back time.

As premises become vacant we should adopt a more ruthless attitude. Old buildings should be CPO'd and demolished with small 'green' areas with seating and possibly wi-fi hotspots replacing them. Others should be converted to social housing for single people - one bed apartments so that there is resident community actually living in the town centres.

The Red Flag said...

Interesting article. Seems High Streets are doomed by the tories attempts to pretend property values are higher than the market says:-