Anthony Hilton: It’s not just high streets but shopping centres that are on the retreat

In mortality terms, the filing clerk is more stressed than the A £24m windfall for boardroom executive

The battle between the internet and the high street ratcheted up a further notch on Tuesday when it was announced that ao.com, which sells kitchen appliances, is to offer a same-day delivery service, becoming one of the first internet firms to do so with big-ticket items. 

There is a proliferation of firms offering similar services for smaller goods. Amazon is testing same-day delivery and though the customer has to pay a premium for it, it is already possible in London to have something delivered within minutes. 

Shutl, a start-up that acts as an aggregator for various couriers, last month signed a deal with Schuh, a footwear company, to deliver shoes ordered online within an hour of having placed the order. The charge is only £4.99, which is probably less than it would cost to get to the shops by Tube.

Being able to get the goods immediately was one of the few remaining reasons to go to a shopping centre, so it is potentially more bad news for the high streets.

Actually, that is not strictly true, according to the chief executive of one of the larger developers whom I met the other day. He says people are shopping less, but when they do go out they want much more from it and they are prepared to travel some distance if they think the destination is worth the effort. 

Westfield in the Stratford Olympic Park even has a casino in addition to health clubs, a cinema and every conceivable variety of shop, pub and restaurant but older centres like Bluewater or the Metro Centre in Gateshead draw people by car from two hours, or 100 miles, away.

So what business there is is being concentrated in fewer centres, so much so that retailers believe they can cover the bulk of the country with around 60 shops, whereas a few years ago they thought they needed 200 or more. This puts further pressure on high streets and the smaller, older, less sophisticated shopping centres. And that is why the big developers are quietly selling them off.

Land Securities, which has already disposed of centres in East Kilbride, Corby and Worcester, and British Land, which sold 50 per cent of its stake in Sheffield's Meadowhall in 2009, this week announced that they were getting out of the Bon accord centre in Aberdeen, a development which was good in its day but which has been put in the shade by Union Square, a Hammerson project adjacent to the main railway station.

You can see why the property companies would want to sell these tired old shopping centres but you wonder who might want to buy given what we know about the change in shopping habits and the mounting numbers that are vacant. In the Aberdeen case the buyer was the real estate investment trust managed by Foreign & Colonial – in other words, a fund manager using other people’s money.

 I am not sure I find that totally reassuring. Time will tell.

The key to a longer life for men may not be worth it

This is going to be a tough sell but one of the most interesting talks I have heard for some time was on mortality and life expectancy at a seminar organised on Thursday by Punter Southall, the consulting actuaries.

We all know life expectancy is increasing and women live longer than men but there is much more to it than that.

Two thirds of that gender gap is down to lifestyle, not genetics, and that means that though smoking and drinking too much are particularly relevant, there are all sorts of other factors. Affluence is one; well-off people are enjoying a bigger increase in life expectancy than the less well off and occupation matters too. People with white-collar jobs live longer than those who have worked in physically demanding occupations, particularly the old heavy industries. 

Nor does it help that men, when they do feel ill, are apparently less inclined to go to the doctor and, when they do, are less inclined to follow the advice given. 

Then there is the social gradient effect, which measures the impact of stress at work. This is not the stress the boss feels so much as the pressure lower down the line among those who are told what to do and when to do it so they have very little control over their day. In mortality terms, the filing clerk is more stressed than the boardroom executive and more likely to get heart diseases.

Obesity is another big killer and one which is rapidly getting much worse. Being seriously overweight is as likely to cut you down early as a lifetime of smoking.

So if you want to live longer you can do a lot by eating the right things, not drinking the wrong ones and walking faster as exercise. But there is not realistically much you can do about gender – the females of all mammals live longer, as they do with reptiles and insects. Birds are the only species where females die first.

There is, however, one drastic solution for half the population. One actuarial study found that castrated men lived on average  19 years longer than their peers from the same social groups.

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