High streets continue to change

PwC and the Local Data Company have published a paper showing the (obvious) demise of the nation’s high streets and it’s doing the media rounds.

Despite the growing economy, our town centres are continuing to shrink thanks to our propensity for home and out-of-town shopping. The study of 500 town centres shows 3,003 shops closed in H1 2014. There’s some solace in the fact that the closure rate of 16 per day has slowed compared to last year’s 18 per day. However, new openings have also slowed, netting a loss of 406 shops.

Building societies, DVD rental and clothes shops were the biggest losers. The previously ubiquitous Blockbusters have left a massive hole, closing 528 stores and Phones 4u’s redundant 560 units will do likewise.

These closures are being replaced by betting shops, coffee shops, tattoo parlours and discount stores. Takeaways are apparently surging too, with fish and chip shops leading the charge. Providing our nation’s favourite meal is a surprisingly organised industry looking to promote itself and set standards – did you know they run training courses? Richard Jenkins of Experian was quoted in The Times saying that high streets are, “becoming more social environments.”

Also notable is that our average baskets which have grown for the past decade (rational when considering inflation) actually fell in September 2014. Likely a result of the increasing little-and-often approach – think of the increasing urban Tesco Express visits in built up areas, opposed to the Tesco Extra super shop that you travel to.

The report is obviously factual, if unsurprising, but it doesn’t suggest what needs to come next. What exactly do we want for our town centres? Where is the plan? Where’s the published ideal? Yes, Mary Portas gave recommendations (the results have been somewhat controversial) but other than scrapping along and deferring to the fact that a free market will work out what’s best, what is the government’s goal for our town centres?

It strikes me that rather than any more tsars from the PR world (Sugar, Portas, et al), we’d be better with a faux Minister of Retail. That person needs to create a national strategy with local nuances. I’d vote for Bill Grimsey in heartbeat. Fancy starting the petition?

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