Wednesday, November 14

The Decline of the British High Street

Comments are bouncing around the inside pages of the newspapers this week concerning the all too obvious decline of our high streets in recent years. The connection that commentators and others are not making forcefully enough is between the draconian and expensive parking restrictions in most towns and city centres and the decline of our traditional high streets.

Quite deliberately planners have favored for mostly 'environmental' reasons out of town shopping centers with their huge free to use car parks Such locations by and large favour the larger retail chain leaving the independent retailer to struggle on in high street shopping locations that are well past their prime due to under use by more affluent shoppers.

Combine the growth of out of town shopping with the increasing mighty power of supermarkets who now retail far more than groceries the outlook for the independent specialist retailer - once a dominant business sector is looking grim. The solution is not easy though a cry of use us or loose us not only sounds pathetic it will not encourage consumers to return in droves. Maybe a general tax break for independent smaller retailers is a way forward to encourage their growth?

The independent food retailer has been particularly badly hit during the past 10 years. Ahead of the long awaited publication of the findings of the Commission's inquiry into whether the growth of the UK's grocery giants is hindering competition, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said certain tactics employed by large retailers must be dealt with. Though the difficulty is precisely how smaller businesses can respond to the march of the giants.

Selling items priced below the cost of production, bullying small suppliers and paying them late, spiraling high street parking charges and property speculation through land banks are among the corporate methods which the FSB claims supermarkets use to exert unfair dominance over independent shops. An all-party group of MPs recently estimated that by 2015 there will be no independent food high street retailers.
The Commission's latest inquiry, the findings of which will be published later this week, is the third investigation into supermarkets in seven years; yet as far as small retailers are concerned the national solution to the problem of the slippery slope of overall declining sales remains elusive.
A reversal of expensive and restrictive parking policies (a part of a strong anti-car philosophy) in our declining town centers by our cash hungry local authorities- encouraged by central government - would make a significant improvement to the fortunes of our High Streets. Two hundred years ago Napoleon commented that we are a nation of small shop keepers alas we are now a nation of expensive parking zones and four monster supermarket chains. I feel a campaign coming on.


Anne Westerbrook said...

Some good points in that piece Peter. Pleny of cheap parking is the life blood of a vibrant high street. Which is why so many high streets are now dying. The anti-car policy of local councils has cost the public it traditional and often charming high street shopping facilities.

Anonymous said...

I find myself agreeing with you entirely on this one Peter. Unless the march of the supermarkets is stopped and an even playing field is created, the High Street is doomed.
As for parking charges, I think you summed up the reason why nothing is going to happen in your final sentance - "our cash hungry local authorities- encouraged by central government"
At one time, local councils were made up of "normal people" My uncle, a miner by trade, was a local councillor for over 20 years and still worked down the pit every day. Now the councils are full of political science graduates who don't have a clue about the real world. Another trend that needs to be reversed.
Start a campaign about parking charges by all means - but it will need to be a national campaign. This blog on it's own wouldn't be enough. Good luck with it.

Peter Troy said...

Thank you Mr Anomymous, as you say I am only one man one Blog. It is a matter that the Federation of Small Businesses should embrace with vigorous campaigning.

Though one has to be careful of the term stopping the march of the supermarkets. We need a viberant free market economy with as few controls as possible. The answer lies in favourable tax treatment to smaller businesses as well as the abolition of most of the governments regional business support organisations which probably, on close examination, do more harm than good.