Your High Street won’t be same as it was. Ever.
Like King Canut trying to hold back the tide, local councils are constantly being petitioned by residents and businesses to bring back the High Streets of the 1968. Bustling with shoppers, tills of Woolworths, market stalls, butchers, bakers and the local grocers would ring as housewives went about their daily shop. You may have noticed – it’s changed.
Back in the late 60s, retail parks had yet to arrive. One car households were much more common than they are now and the man of the house would have used it to get to work on one of the factory estates starting to develop around Telford. Many homes were getting by with TV sets from Radio Rentals with screens smaller that you get in a Tesla. Freezers? Maybe in the posh areas.
All this added up to lots of local convenience shopping in lots of local shops in our market towns of Dawley, Wellington, Madeley, Newport and Oakengates.
It seemed that the majority of households in 70s Stirchley where I grew up were made up of families just like ours. Dad went out to work, Mum had a part-time job and made the tea. The kids went to school and out to play when they came back and had watched Grange Hill.
Yes the towns were buzzing, shops busy but when Telford Shopping Centre was started, the writing was on the wall.
Roll forward 50 years. The 2018 Telford home has Ultra High Definition TVs, and the latest films a click away. Craft beer in the American Fridge Freezer. Any number of pizza, kebab, curry, chinese a Just Eat away. We can facetime our friends in a way that was Star Trek science fiction when we were kids.
Mum will have a career or a string of part-time jobs, a car and maybe no partner on the scene. The kids won’t go out to play – why would they? They can play football with their friends online, no matter what the weather.
The High Streets of today are not empty. Certainly not like they were, but not empty. A look inside the doors of Wetherspoons during the week and you’ll see many tables occupied by the retired, the young mums and the unemployed. What you won’t see are many shopping bags.
You can’t uninvent the internet. A range of goods unrivalled often at prices that cannot be matched, delivered to your door.
Music, films, sport and games piped hot and fresh to your hand or TV. Grab a craft beer out of the fridge – no need to go to the pub.
You can’t uninvent the retail parks. Huge shops for those that want to browse. Casual dining by the likes of KFC or McDonalds, quick stops for coffee at Costa or Starbucks.
It’s not coming back. Not like it was. The High Street of today has national chains, able to negotiate the best rents, engage people with the best offers and have a brand that people trust. Many of the independent shops are woefully underfunded. Started by those with a passion for the product but without the marketing means to deliver. Of course there are notable exceptions, there is room for independent shops, cafes & pubs, but they have to be noteable.
Use it lose it? Chances are we didn’t use it so won’t miss it.
The future of the High Street is consolidation and experiences. Introducing more High Street dwellings, mixed in with the shops will help keep the streets safe and fill up some of the empty spaces. There is surely a need for these homes, and in Wellington we have seen the Rizzos flats, Charlton Arms and Edgbaston House all turned into accommodation.
A smaller centre will also help to concentrate the retail offer. Using planning to stop retail development outside the core shopping area will help to keep the footfall in one place.
We could also use planning to stop the 14th Charity Shop or the 11th Kebab/Pizza/Chicken Shop opening its doors. Sometimes it’s better to have an empty shop rather than dilute the revenue. Would another Kebab shop increase the overall amount of cash spent in Wellington? I’d doubt it.
Hairdressers, nail bars, coffee shops, bars, tanning, delis, gyms. People want places to meet their friends and things to do. They also want things that you can’t buy online – like a haircut or live music.
What changes would you make to the High Street near you?