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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Saving the Great British High Street

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

What do the following big high street brands have in common; Mothercare, Poundworld and House of Fraser? The answer is that they’ve all announced stores closures and job losses this month, with over 400 shops and 118,000 workers at risk. That isn’t even the worst of it. If you go further back this year, the list of businesses cutting down on stores and jobs reads like a who’s-who of high street fixtures, including Marks & Spencer, Tesco’s, Carphone Warehouse, Carpet Right and New Look. There have also been over 2,000 bank closures since 2015, and at the end of February, Maplin and Toys R’ Us went into administration on the same day. No matter where you look, it’s hard to shake off the impression that our town centres and high streets are under pressure unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

It’s an impression that the numbers seem to back up as well. While figures for 2018 are not available yet, research by the Local Data Company (LDC) of high streets in 500 towns in the UK suggests that 16 shops a day closed for a total of 5,855 store closures altogether, compared to only 11 new shops a day opening. Worse still, ask ten different experts about what might be causing it, and you’ll get ten different answers. It could be that people with frozen or falling wages are tightening their belts and putting what money they have towards the basics. It could be that people still have money but are choosing to spend it or bank it online instead. It could be the government charging too much in business rates or landlords charging too much in rent. It could be all of the above, or perhaps none of them.

What is clear is that something needs to be done. There is an importance and a value to the British high street that cannot be measured in money and property space. It’s a place where people, no matter what their age or culture, come together and share activities, experiences and stories. There is nothing more likely to raise pride in a city or town than a busy and vibrant high street, and there’s nothing more likely to put people off than row after row of boarded up or abandoned storefronts.

So what can be done, especially in places that don’t have the advantage of being major cities or economic hubs? While the LDC report paints a grim picture in general, it also highlights that certain sectors, such as barbers, hairdressers, cafes, restaurants and beauty salons, have thrived despite the circumstances. All these success stories have two things in common; they are as much about the experience as they are about whatever you’re buying, and they offer products and services that cannot be offered online. As the big brands withdraw from the high street, space also appears to have opened up for smaller, independent retailers, with the North West in particular being a hot spot for that kind of growth.

It’s these trends, away from monolithic shopping centres and consumerism, and towards smaller retailers and experiences, that we’ve sought to capitalise on in our plans for Tameside. That includes the progress we’re currently making on the Stalybridge Town Centre Challenge, and the continuation of the Vision Tameside project in Ashton. Upon completion, both will act as catalysts for further investment and regeneration in their respective towns. I’d also like to see the government fundamentally look at business rates and the difficulties that some businesses have in finding premises at an affordable rent, ensuring that small and independent businesses receive every helping hand they can get. Our high streets are the beating hearts of our communities, it’s time they were given the care and investment that they deserve.


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