THE BLOG

Saving Our High Streets

19/05/2013 19:20 BST | Updated 19/07/2013 10:12 BST
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They used to be the buzzing centre of our communities, but now Britain's high streets are blighted by empty shops and an ever-declining number of shoppers. The start of 2013 brought with it another glut of British retailers going into administration, something that is happening with depressing regularity. From HMV to Republic, Blockbusters to Jessops, they have all fallen prey to the ailing high street this year. What can be done to stop other chains and independent stores suffering the same fate?

Firstly we need to look at why consumers have stopped shopping in their local town centres. According to a recent survey, the lack of variety in our high street shops tops the list. Other factors putting punters off of spending their cash in the high streets included insufficient public transport links, the hike in the costs of parking and the ability to shop in out of town shopping centres or online.

To try and attract shoppers with variety, it needs to be made easier and more accessible for new businesses to get space on the high street. While last year might have been terrible for the big retailers, it was a bumper year for startups. You can bet that a large number of those startups would like to have a presence in town centres, raising awareness of their brands, if the cost weren't so prohibitive.

Incentives for these would-be shop owners would help encourage new independent businesses such as rent holidays for startups or subsidised store rents would mean more new business would be trading bringing new consumers to town. We need diversity, not another payday loan company or pound store opening its doors and campaigns like PopUp Britain should be embraced and championed by local councils.

Then there is the parking issue to address. Councils make a huge percentage of their annual income from car parking revenue, so it's no surprise that prices continue to rise year after year. To add insult to injury parking near high streets is not only expensive but often woefully inadequate due to lack of spaces or far away from the main thoroughfare. One option is that people start taking part in the 'sharing economy', potentially parking in private driveways that local residents start renting out, cutting parking costs - and also save time spent circling, looking for a space by using a parking app like ParkatmyHouse. The other is that local councils dramatically cut parking costs and improve parking availability in Britain's towns.

Local government might also want to think about letting some of the empty buildings be re-purposed. Rather than simply leaving shops boarded up, why not redevelop? The vacant buildings could be used for cultural, community or learning services which would be of obvious benefit to the local population. Another option would be to turn some of the buildings into residential properties. This would not only aid first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder, but the new residents would also bring with them spending power; the benefits would be two-fold.

There is obviously not one clear cut answer to save the failing British high street, and any of these ideas alone won't single-handedly solve the issues. However a combination of the above will surely go some way to turning back the tide of empty shops and restoring Britain's high streets to their former glory.