Express & Star comment: Celebrate joys of the high street
That large numbers of Tesco workers are to lose their jobs is further confirmation that our High Streets are in trouble.
Many of those workers will be leaving from the supermarket’s smaller convenience stores as shopping habits continue to change in the digital age.
Tesco isn’t the only business that’s had to apply cold, hard reality to its operations.
The list of big brands that have exited the High Street in recent years is a cause for deep concern and more must be done.
The fate of our High Streets should not be left in the hands of businesses.
Local planners and elected officials must play an active role in reshaping and reimagining where we go from here.
The traditional model of the High Street is broken as people switch to shopping with the click of a mouse.
Yet social historians will be well aware that the High Street has faced challenges before and managed to survive.
Within recent generations, High Streets have come under siege from out-of-town shopping centres, which offer extensive parking and other comforts.
Yet both have found a way to co-exist alongside one another. Now High Streets must rise to a different challenge as people shop from the comfort of their living room.
New thinking must be applied as councils look to encourage more people to live in town centres, using some of the unoccupied living spaces above existing shops.
Other ways have to be found to stimulate the night-time economy, with more bars, restaurants and places of leisure.
Critically, national and local politicians need to look again at the issue of business taxes that apply on premises in town centres.
Numerous shops have been forced to close as rateable values have made their businesses unsustainable.
A generous package of relief should be explored as we find ways to stimulate a sector facing profound difficulty and challenge.
Similarly, town centres must make more effort to provide the points of difference between them and retail giants.
While they may never be able to compete in terms of price, they can provide better customer service. Few people who shop online will not have been exasperated by an inability to get a customer service agent on the phone.
Our High Streets aren’t dead. And with the right moves they can thrive.