Leading article: Streets ahead

Those who have never wandered down Leicester high street, drinking in the elegance of its surviving Victorian architecture, might raise an eyebrow on learning that there exists a shopping thoroughfare in the country precious enough to be designated a conservation area.

This scepticism is, sadly, justified. Many of our town centres have been disfigured by ugly developments in recent decades. Familiar chains have moved in, crushing the distinctive character of countless market towns. Endless roadworks and punitive business rates have hollowed out many centres. Out-of-town supermarkets and malls have done for others.

We should care more about our high streets. At their best they are not simply convenient strings of shops and services, but places for gossip, business and civic engagement; little Roman forums in every town. And as the Victorians of Leicester have shown, there is no reason they cannot also be easy on the eye.