Has your high street been crushed by bureaucracy?
Independent small businesses have been under attack by increases in business rates and rents, coupled with the imposition of double yellow lines outside their premises and high local car parking charges. The demise of the high street has been an erosion of the fabric of communities up and down the country for decades.
The number of empty shops in the UK has remained constant at around 40,000 over the past three years, and over 20,000 businesses remain at risk of closure. The gurus ideas have failed.
Once upon a time you could stop outside shops in your local high street or village shopping parade and for example pop into the hairdressers. When you came back out your car would be where you left it and heavens above, no parking ticket on the windscreen either.
How many times have you driven past local shops having smelt that lovely aroma of freshly baked bread? Would you have bought some jam doughnuts or chocolate eclairs whilst getting your crusty seeded twist? Most likely given the opportunity you would have popped into the butchers as well and bought yourself some ham on the bone for a sandwich and a couple of tasty chops for later.
You may even been seduced by the smoked salmon that you saw in the fishmongers window as you passed by to go with the beigels that you bought in the bakers. Perhaps you are undecided and fancy salt beef instead. What about a visit to the newsagent? Get a bar of whole nut for the missus or buy a book and magazine.
Aw-shucks! Could you resist getting a bunch of flowers from the florist and a bottle of sophisticated wine from the offy? Fantastic with two bags of chips and curry sauce for a romantic evening in for a change.
Have you ever thought to yourself “leave it. I will get a ticket” as the waft of fish and chips drifts through your cars vents or open windows?
Remember the days when you could stop and park in the local high street and sit and eat a pie and mash with liquor lunch with a nice cup of tea? Without having a heart attack through eating it so fast because the parking meter might run out.
Then the wise men decided that shopkeepers required yellow lines outside their premises coupled with local car parking charges that generated revenue for funding Town Hall pet projects.
The imposition of parking charges emptied local high street car parks as potential customers preferred to drive for miles and pay nothing to park and shop in out of town stores.
The final nail in the coffin for the high street happened when Town Halls submitted to the supermarket giants and out of town shopping centres planning applications. More jobs, more competition will be good for the high street they decided.
So it began, convenience shopping became a way of life as high street shops struggled to survive. Businesses started to diversify into other product lines that neighbouring shops sold. Such as the newsagent selling flowers or the florist selling pet foods. This pseudo competition of trying to attract customers through the door pulled the quality of the high street down.
Then came a new generation of Town Hall nit-wits who dreamed up new wheezes to see off the remaining shops that survived the first wave of high street improvements.
Hence the bus and cycle lanes blossomed in the local high street. Would any sane person park their car in the pouring rain and pop into a high street shop anymore? CCTV cameras will report you for this type of heinous parking offence. The subsequent fine is a penalty that most ordinary people can ill afford in these times of austerity.
The easy decision for the majority of consumers in this type of situation is to drive for miles to a supermarket or shopping mall. Then spend hours and hundreds of pounds instead of buying a loaf of bread some milk and two pounds of sugar and a lottery ticket.
All of these factors are pressures that the competition does not have to bear. Supermarkets and shopping malls offset the costs for rents and business rates, wages etc. from their huge profits by tax avoidance schemes. The car parking is free.
So the inevitable happened the high street has turned into a wasteland full of empty boarded up premises. The only survivors of the government and town hall experts are charity shops, estate agents, pound shops and a kebab takeaway. The hoards of customers are delinquent truants wandering along the dull facades and litter strewn streets. They spit abuse at society that does not conform to their standards.
The few independent shops that struggled to survive the banks legacy for the economy have their shop windows smashed by the drunks and yobs that take over the high street ownership after dusk.
Job done no footfall equals no high street customers.
The holy grail of the shopping giants is to get you through the doors and relive you of your hard earned cash by encouraging you to purchase goods that you do not need.
Watch how the big boys use subtle advertising techniques at this time of year on television. They show a scene of happy families walking through a snowy Christmassy market full of stalls and nostalgic shops adorned with Christmas decorations. Then hello! You are inside the supermarket picking up the promoted goods from the shelves into an overflowing shopping trolly. Note that no shoppers are shown buying anything in the high street.
Why, oh why, are the high streets not looking like that in the first place?
A level playing field.
Wearing my green hat the out of town supermarkets and shopping malls contribute to a huge carbon footprint. Customers have to drive to them. They generate huge traffic jams. The car parks are full to bursting point. Irate motorists turn the air blue trying to park in the disabled bays outside the entrances.
A car parking charge should be introduced on free supermarket and out of town shopping malls. The revenue after costs going directly into local coffers. This ring fenced money could then be solely used on reducing high street business rates and pay for car parking improvements.
Shops have owners and employees, build dedicated car parks with a free pass for entry so that they can park whilst they are at work. Thereby not using up the free car parking spaces needed for customers.
Also introduce congestion charge zones around out of town shopping malls and supermarkets. This revenue can also be used to fund local high street improvements, such as parking bays. The money raised will pay the wages for parking accommodators instead of traffic wardens. Yes, and pay for 24 hour bobbies on the beat as well.
Abolish all local high street car parking charges and introduce the scrapping of parking meters. These changes will give the consumer confidence to shop locally without fear.
This would help the environment by encouraging shoppers to return to local high streets thus lowering the nation’s carbon footprint.
Alternatives to encourage regeneration of the high street.
Business rates should not be based on 2008 property values when businesses are either empty or struggling to survive. Business rates in many cases are higher than annual rents.
It stands to reason that business rates are a high on cost for running a competitive shop. The government should pass a new law and halve all high street business rates immediately. Not for a year but fixed for ten years and when that period is finished only inflationary increases based on the rates being paid at the end of that term.
Surely the calculation that filling a potentially 40,000 empty shops at half the business rates is better than no rates at all?
Landlords and property management companies are not high street friendly.
Greedy landlords increase rents when they see a successful shop flourishing they want their pound of flesh even if it means putting a shop out of business. Pass new laws on abusive leases that allow yearly rent reviews. Leases should be issued for a 99 year term. If a successful shop owner sells his business landlords should be prevented from altering the rent review conditions for a new owner, make them pass on the same contracted terms that the seller has sold to the new vendor including a new 99 year lease.
Empty shop owners should be forced to sell the freeholds and facilitate high street regeneration by letting the very capable great independent retailers and restauranteurs invest with confidence and refurbish a closed down unit into a quality business premises. Allowing them to make a living and thereby employ people.
There you go the high street is on the road to recovery.
Curses! I forgot about the massive increase of internet shopping. That will close everybody down. No doubt about it some time in the near future my credit card purchased fish and chips or takeaway curry and pizza will be delivered by a heated drone octocopter homing in on my location. The order will probably be auto-enabled by a smart device such as my ‘poodle perm’ iRug that has detected hunger pains churning away inside my stomach and dispatched my fried chicken from a fast food provider.
My paranoia stress level is on the up again because of this iRug technology. It could provide shed loads of data about my obesity and transmit the information to my spy masters. If I had a full English hidden underneath my iRug could they blast my Chinese takeaway octocopter delivery out of the sky using a health drone?