This was originally posted on FocusingPolitics.
High streets are one of the most important components of what gives a town or city its identity, which makes the local people feel proud because it’s their history. This is why it is concerning to see so many high streets dying.
One of the main challenges is the rise in online shopping, it’s quick and you can get pretty much anything online – which is rather convenient. Figures from Invesp shows online shopping in the UK has increased from 14.4% in 2015 to 18.0% in 2018. This highlights the problem of the lifestyles we lead today, everyone is ‘too busy’ or ‘there is not enough time in the day, so turning to sites such as Amazon to buy a last-minute birthday present to buying an outfit for a party on ASOS is becoming increasingly common.
Consequently, consumers turning to the internet to do their shopping does not allow the high street to adapt to meet what their customers want and need, and one of the increasing problems linked to people not going to their local town or city centre is the cost of car parking prices. Take Northampton Town Centre for example, in one of the main car parking places – it costs £4 for 4 hours or £8 all day. The cost of parking is not justified for what the town has to offer, previously you could stumble across an independent restaurant or shop alongside big name brands such as BHS. Today, you visit the town and you’re welcomed by pound shops and betting shops. Consumers should not feel put off visit their high street because of the absurd car parking costs and lack of varied shops on offer.
Our high streets are incredibly important because they are the hub of providing opportunities, facilitating creativity and somewhere to socialize.
High streets as already mentioned provide each town and city with their own individual identity, something local people can be proud about, and something for tourists from around the world to get excited about. In an article published in The Express last year, there are 12 towns across the UK had been recognised as having the best high streets, from Prestwick Main Street to Hitchin Town Centre (August 2018). So, what do they have in common, a strong sense of community and history not only that they are proud of, but get excited to share with tourists. Struggling high streets could learn a thing or two.
An equally important reason is, high streets provide weekend jobs for teenagers. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills in 2015 published a report highlighting in 1997 42% of 16-17 year olds had a part-time job, by 2014 this figure had drastically been reduced to 18%. 2014 was the year I started looking for a weekend job to compliment my education, and back then I found it extremely intense. After a lot of perseverance, I was eventually employed and the soft, interpersonal skills gained from my first job were skills I would never have learnt in school. We need high streets to be rejuvenated, not only for a sense of local pride but to give teenagers the skills they can’t be taught in the classroom and to burst that bubble that so many young people are stuck in.
There are ways however to tackle the problem which involves the cooperation between government, local authorities and people.
The government spending £95 million on reviving historic high streets is a fantastic step in the right direction but there are things local councils can do such as reducing car parking charges and the price of bus tickets. As already mentioned, parking in Northampton town centre costs £8 for the day, a day rider in the town will set you back £4.20. Unfortunately, at the moment such costs are not justified, and it is something seen across the country – with people going out of the town to shopping locations that justifies the amount spent on fuel and parking, and the time spent travelling.
Local councils could also work with local businesses to give people reasons to visit the high street rather than going outside of the town to a larger shopping centre. For people that live in the Northamptonshire area, they do not have a reason to visit the town centre, and instead, people will travel to Rushden Lakes, Milton Keynes or even Bicester Village for the sole purpose of the shopping area being ‘instagrammable’ and with much more on offer in terms of shops and cuisine. Studying in Leicester, I am surrounded by a variety of independent shops and cafes each with their own unique selling point, you never quite know what you’re going to find, and this is something that should be experienced across the country.
Rejuvenating our high streets requires bipartisanship and the commitments of local; councils, businesses and most importantly people to work together – to determine what you want from your high street, to see it survive.