InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

Can the UK high street be saved?

This summer I went on a staycation through the English countryside and villages. Rounding a corner, I was suddenly shocked by a sight that has been lost for so long that it has been declared … DEAD!

Behold a High Street!

It may sound dramatic, but we all yearn for a romanticised version of the quintessential High Street. Millions of tourists arrive every year to find one (I used to be one of them!). It is a mythical place where Miss Marple gets her morning kippers; Doc Martin actively avoids…everyone; and Inspector Barnaby is investigating murder 3,429.

Streets are lined with quaint stone cottages surrounding the village green, with a ‘Purveyor of Fine Foods’, hairdresser, Post Office, estate agent, solicitor, tea rooms and pub. They are the hub of their local communities – and tourists flock to them like Disneyland.

Most of these quintessential ‘High Streets’ are surviving though because they are catering to a different demand than their urban cousins. The High Street is not dead, it’s simply retreated to the country.

The urban High Street

What of High Streets in our towns though? Sorry to say, they are struggling, and have been for quite some time. With few exceptions, urban spaces are dominated by concrete and glass, with treeless parades of shops.

But the real difference is the way these spaces are used. We shop online for everything from groceries to candles, books to sofas. The ‘High Street’ is now a place to do things: write a report in a coffee shop, go to the gym, have a pint with friends, get your nails done and then meet family for dinner. It is a destination – where we stop shopping online and become social again.

Although the NPPF requires flexible policies that meet the changing needs of our urban communities, in reality, Local Plans are years in the making (and years in the changing). Retail planning policies haven’t changed for years and are simply rolled from one version of a Local Plan to another. Those policies simply aren’t flexible enough now to keep up with twenty-first century changes…

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