Saving the High Street

How many reports do we need to read about saving the High Street, before some sensible action that might actually work takes place. Having worked for a High Street retailer who faced the Out and Edge of Town Threat, I saw first hand some of the things that could be done to help revitalise our city and town centres.

The dash to Out of Town shopping happened under a Tory Government. Retailers moved to premises out of town with free parking that were convenient to shoppers with cars. Today those retail outlets have effectively become localised monopolies. So you will get your Tesco or other massive retailer out of town, and because the planning system has clamped down on these types of development – no other retailer can compete in that geographical location. Not a good situation.

Now the retailer I worked for was primarily high street based. We recognised that people now went shopping in their car as a general rule. The number of people who say they should support their local baker, butcher and local shop, yet don’t because it’s easy to do a one stop shop at a supermarket, in a car, far outweigh those who follow through their warm words and support local shops.

We always used to us the example of a tube of toothpaste. Lets say it costs the same price in both an out of town and town centre shop. Price isn’t an issue is it? Well it is when you have to pay £2.00 to park in town yet out of town it’s free. That tube of toothpaste is now £2.00 more in a town centre location.

Where I live, it used to be free to park on a Sunday. Not many shops were open, but generally most Sundays we would pop into town, by a paperm have a copy and a browse. They changed the pricing (in Newark). The cost to park on a Sunday is the same as  a weekday. So what do we d. We drive all the way to Lincoln, where parking still costs – but there is much more choice.

Then you can look at Chesterfield where I was born. Parking also used to be free – but they have now introduced a charge – £1 all day. So a nominal fee. So I will shop there.

Three towns with three different parking structures and they all impact and where I spend my money. I don’t go into my local town centre on a Sunday, as they don’t have the sense to introduce a charging sytem that either is discounted on a Sunday or where (like some places) if you pay to park you can get it knocked off local purchases. I drive to Lincol where they do charge knowing there is lots more choice and more things open, and I even go to Chesterfield where parking is a nominal fee.

Of the three town centres, my local one, in my estimation, has got it wrong, and is inflicting damage on itself. Yet the real threat to them all is I can drive to any out of town destination (Meadowhall) and there is no charge.

The answer isnt to charge for out of town spaces, but for town centres to realise that people have choices and if they are to compete they need to encourage people back into them – not push them away somewhere else.

Yes the High Street needs to be saved – but it needs to do something to save itself.

Update:- This is how bad things are for small retailers

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11 Responses to Saving the High Street

  1. 200 car spaces at 1.00 an hour.x 365 days = £584,000 for a modest car park.
    Less fees and an attendant on say £14k its still 1/2 a million £ each car park.

    They aren’t going to give that up in a hurry.
    Local sales tax instead of VAT may make county councils suddenly very receptive to business needs, but that isn’t going to happen either.

    • editor says:

      Yes – but lets look at forward thinking councils at weekends. Empty car parks on Sundays – no revenue. Potential shoppers leave to go to out of town destinations. Huge loss in business rates as more and more retailers shut.

  2. Of course, you are right. Just pointing out why the councils do it. And its not as if you are advocating a complete abandonment of the parking tax. Lost revenue would be 1/7 th maximum.
    I know of many car parks where parking is free on Sundays, especially where councils are still trying to get Sundays going.

    The average rates bill is around £21,000 for a 2-3,000sq ft unit.
    Much more revenue in promoting the high street than strangling it. Plus local job creation. Today 12% of units are empty which Is a figure I can believe. But it will get much worse next January when the VAT cut ends and their are no more cost cuts to make.
    Everyone is still cutting back.
    Someone emailed me that Tesco are cutting management jobs at several stores and this person has to re apply for their post. 5 managers going down to 2 in each department. TESCO !

  3. editor says:

    On that depressing note I think I will get some sleep. A nation of ex-shop keepers? Very depressing!

  4. Pingback: The Daley Dozen: Friday 

  5. A says:

    Well, the town centres can only compete with places designed for cars when THEY are designed for cars, which being very old, they are not. If they become ghost towns, we will be able to knock them down enough to totally redesign them, so that they can take cars (parking for free, like an out-of-town) in the same numbers, and so compete. What else could possibly work?

  6. JessTheDog says:

    There is retail planning policy aimed at focusing retail development in town centres (PPS 4, google it). In my opinion, out-of-centre is fine for car-based shopping such as bulky goods and DIY, but not for mainstream non-food retailing or for supermarkets. Town centres need flagship high street names to attract custom, sometimes purpose-built modern malls can provide large enough units for modern retailers and attractive environments, but these need to be in the centre.

    Edge of centre retail parks (within walking distance of the centre) can work well by offering free “informal” parking for food shoppers who will dump the car in the car park, go to the town centre, and pick up the food shopping on the way home.

    It’s no good just saying that town centres need to attract people in without more details, as an excuse to allow out-of-centre development. More detail is needed, and this needs to be specific to a locality. Modern malls, good public transport, adequate parking, a good mix of leisure and other uses and public spaces, proper town centre management, all complementing restricted out-of-centre can work. Most thriving and pleasant town centres have very limited out-of-centre, most grim and dying town centres are surrrounded by retail parks.

  7. editor says:

    Thanks Jess. No need for me to look up on google, as I had planning policy coming out of mr ears in a previous role. In fact I worked with the chap who provided a lot of the training for town centre managers throught the ATCM. We could go on to the subject of section 106 agreements. Aren’t they just legalised bribes.

  8. backwoodsman says:

    Large supermarkets are killing small rural towns , primarily because of their free parking and, their financial strength , which allows them to spend massively on advertising, thus compounding the problem. It also enables them to make significant back door donations to nulab, thus ensuring that no controls over their supplier monopoly stranglehold are introduced.
    The problem can be addressed by a number of policies whidh already exist in places like France.
    - Council install pay to park barriers on access to supermarket.
    - Council scrap carpark charges in town centres and use surplus balance to subsidise high street business rates.
    Supermarkets legally bound to devote 10% of sales space to local produce and small producers foc.
    - automatic fines for supermarkets who abuse supplier agreements, with procedes distributed amongst suppliers.

  9. John Moss says:

    We campaigned on a policy of 20 minutes free parking everywhere. Just press the green button and get a 20 minute ticket for free.

    Especially in small local neighbourhood shopping areas, this would be really helpful. Another idea is free parking in these areas after 3.00pm – to catch the school run mums (and dads), and on Saturday morning when car parks which are filled with office workers monday to friday are empty.

    Did our left-wing Lab-Lib coalition council listen? No!

  10. Frank says:

    Many years ago we were urged not to drink and drive, so I stopped driving.

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