What makes people move into an area or move within that area? Is it location? Is it schools? Is it the local amenities and rail links? Is it the community spirit? What makes us say when we visit a quaint town, village or city that we would love to live there? In many ways you can get a real feel for an area by the nature of their high street.
The high street has existed for centuries in British history and has traditionally formed the centre of the community where people meet, shop and socialise. But the once loved high street is changing as independent businesses struggle to compete with high rents, chain stores and internet shopping. Individualism in shops in many high streets has died out because small businesses have been priced out by large retail chains or businesses like betting shops and estate agents who can afford the rising rents and in turn are driving them up even more. Of course with more and more people choosing to shop and socialise online these changes are to some extent inevitable but at what cost is this at?
Wouldn't it be great to see a high street full of local shops, owned and operated by local people and offering a real interesting insight into their skills, dreams and ambitions? Wouldn't it be great for there to be less betting shops, estate agents and insurance brokers? Wouldn't it be great for local people to have more money in their pockets to spend in their local community, helping it grow and develop? Where is the answer?
There are currently over 60 local authorities lobbying the Government for a change in the planning laws to stop betting shops, estate agents and insurance brokers using the high street as a place to advertise the fact that their services are all accessed and operated online. If you asked the owners of any of these businesses how much of their business is operated online and how much via their shops it is almost certain that only a very small fraction would come from the high street.
The world has changed. I know from my own experience of estate agency on the high street that nobody (and I mean virtually nobody) comes into a high street location. All the business is operated online or on the telephone. I am sure the same can be said for betting shops and insurance brokers.
A number of new online estate agency offerings and hybrid models that provide everything that the traditional estate agents are offering is helping to change this. These new and exciting ways to sell, buy and let not only free up space on the high street but charge significantly less than their traditional counterparts, leaving customers with more money in their pockets to spend on their high street or on their new home or towards a better deposit which in turn brings the possibility of lower mortgage repayments. They will no longer be financing a desolate shop front and hopefully by reinvesting their hard earned cash in their local community we will start to see many more of those interesting local shops, owned and operated by local people.
In the same way that internet banking and online news sites have transformed their sectors, the estate agency industry is changing. I am confident that local authorities, the government, local people and sensible businesses will play their part.
The government and local authorities need to address that small businesses need greater relief if they are to stay on the high street but traditional estate agents also need to acknowledge their part in this and act responsibly towards the local community. The sooner estate agents admit that their shops act as little more than adverts for their online services the sooner the high street will be rejuvenated.