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Spooked into action by ghost town threat

While the situation portrayed in Mary Portas’s recent Save Our Shops TV show on the BBC is endemic in the UK and a serious problem, there are towns that are thriving despite the recession.

However, what is in no doubt is that once a town starts to decline in terms of shop closures, a vortex effect can quickly occur - less choice, less footfall, more closures, less footfall, leading to the death of a town centre. So what can be done?

I have long advocated the idea of multiples mentoring indies. It would be good PR and good corporate social responsibility if the likes of Marks & Spencer helped smaller retailers. If you ask most large retailers they want to have small indies alongside them. If the indies close, the likelihood is that it will not be long before the multiples decide to close too.
The idea of retailers sharing premises would in effect be similar to an antique shop where dealers each have their own pitch. The consumer might be confused by the offer and my experience
is that retailers perhaps would not welcome another retailer sharing their premises. However, there are occasions where it might work and needs must.

Paying monthly rents should now be a given. Also, I think it would be in landlords’ interests to offer rent holidays in the current climate rather than see the premises becoming empty.
There is a point of no return for those towns that have become virtual wildernesses. It may be better to accept the inevitable and turn the old high street into housing.
This may appear pessimistic, but I believe it is a reality. The key is not to allow your town to get into decline in the first place. Local councils need to think imaginatively as to how they can utilise town centres.

  • John Dean is chief executive of the British Shops and Stores Association

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