We can't turn back the online shopping tide, but we can change the way we think about high streets

An average of one in eight UK shops now lies empty: in some areas, it's much more

Share
Related Topics

For more and more people these days, the idea of retail therapy doesn't entail leaving the house. No public transport, no car journey, no search for a parking space, and no need to walk up and down the high street in all kinds of weather. Online shopping is just one of the reasons why actual, real-life, bricks-and-mortar retailing in the towns and cities of Britain is currently in crisis. The economy, notwithstanding what George Osborne may want us to believe, is another. Plus soaring levels of rents and rates. The never-ending winter has also had an effect. And then there are the out-of-town supermarkets driving traffic from the high street. Whatever the combination of causes, the stark fact is that the number of empty shops in Britain's high streets or malls is higher than it has ever been.

Across the UK, an average of one shop in eight now lies empty: in some areas, it is much more. As well as building a picture of economic gloom to which everyone can relate, these figures produced by the British Retail Consortium reveal just how the stark the regional variations are in terms of prosperity.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, the emptiness quotient goes up to one shop in five, while in London it's less than one in 10. In fact, a brief stroll through bustling central London would lead the casual observer to believe that things have never been better, and that consumers are falling over themselves to spend more. The overall picture is much more bleak, which is why the government turned to Mary Portas to come up with some ideas to breathe a bit more life into High Street, Britain.

Her report was issued in December 2011, and although it remains to be seen whether one of her core proposals - the granting of £100,000 to 12 towns who came up with the most inventive proposals to attract customers back to their shops - is gaining any real traction. And within the retail industry there is much grumbling that the money would have been put to much better use to help shops in danger. There is criticism, too, about the delay in publishing a report which independently verifies how effective this policy has been.

Meanwhile, the blood is draining away from our commercial life, and our high streets are now increasingly populated by charity shops, betting emporiums, pawnbrokers and estate agents. Wouldn't it be a good idea, given that we cannot turn back the tide of online shopping, to think differently about high streets? To think of them as community rather than commercial centres? A friend of mine told me that, in his town in London's commuter belt, the local library has just been moved from the outskirts of town to bang in the middle of the main shopping street, taking the space vacated by Woolworths. The result? A buzzing local facility that's resurrected a boarded up shop, improved usage of the library and provided more footfall for local shops. Could the boarded-up shops of Britain be transformed into, say, nurseries, doctors' surgeries, or even schools? All it would take is a little more imagination, a desire to and an acceptance that the course of history can't be changed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding business based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - Scotland

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - North East Region

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The Top Ten: Words In Christmas Carols That Ought To Be Revived

John Rentoul
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas