Express & Star comment: Act now or our shops will be lost

Whither our High Streets. Unless urgent action is taken to put the brakes on the rate of decline, there will soon be nothing left.

Time to act
Time to act

Conventional shopping patterns have been under threat for many years. The loss of free parking in our town centres has had a profound effect as people have been put off by the costs of doing their shopping.

The rise of out-of-town shopping centres has also provided tougher trading conditions for those who are based in the centre of towns.

They have been unable to compete with the lure of improved facilities, more space and the opportunity to shop around large stores offering better choice.

The proliferation of internet shopping has been catastrophic for many as people have left their analogue lives and switched to digital.

Finally, the failure of Government and local councils to grasp the nettle by incentivising those who have premises in town centres has been galling.

Rates have increased at a time when they should have fallen, financial barriers have increased at a time when they ought to have been removed. Those who fulfil traditional roles of running shops in town centres are being squeezed from all angles.

It is time to take a step back and reflect. It is also important for our strategic planners to take control of the situation.

Let us be under no illusions: unless we act now to save our High Streets they will go into terminal decline and we will lose them. We need to look at a range of options to breathe new life into them and make them sustainable in the long term.

That may involve bringing unused spaces above shops back into use as living accommodation, it may involve providing financial incentives for traders, it may require better dialogue between landlords and lease holders and it will certainly involve goodwill on all sides.

The 1970s group The Specials enjoyed a hit single with Ghost Town – and that’s precisely the fate in store for local towns unless action is taken.

Diversification, unity of purpose, dynamic use of spaces, better customer service, improved transport links and better parking are all required.

The clock is ticking.

It is up to the makers and shakers to take action.

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