From the blog

The High Street Crisis?

The latest column from Ipswich Central CEO, Paul Clement.

I admit that I have been criticised for referring to the changes on the ‘high street’ as a “crisis”. Let me refer my critics – who mostly suggest that this is a cyclical event triggered by the internet (what nonsense!) – to the dictionary definition of a ‘crisis’:

“…an event that is going (or is expected) to lead to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society….”

 So, let’s pause for a moment and consider what is actually going on in ‘high streets’ up and down the country. According to recent research by Savills, in 2018 so far over 2,500 units have been affected by retailer company voluntary arrangements, leading to a number of closures and reductions in rents. Far from being sheltered from this, the East of England is the third most affected region in the UK after London and the South-East. As a consequence, new store openings are slowing down and development and investment is being reviewed.

This is not cyclical or simply due to the internet; it is structural and seismic and, until we appreciate that our town and city centres will never be the same again, we will fail to deal with it. In my view, what is occurring meets the definition of crisis for, if left unchecked, it will destabilise and tear the heart out of local communities. It is something that no local community wants as the majority want their town centres to work better as they are a key part of our identity, and provide the most of our work and social opportunities.

In recent evidence on the subject that I submitted to a Government Select Committee I stated that, if this were a cyclical market-led adjustment the market would, eventually, correct itself. But, it’s not. We have sustained high employment and low interest rates – factors most usually associated with growth rather than shrinkage. Trust me, recovery will not be market-led and, if we kid ourselves that it is ‘somebody else’s problem, we will be stepping back when our communities need us to step forward.

I am not saying that government shouldn’t be doing more. If nothing else, they must use the Autumn Statement to reduce the financial burden on high street retailers. But, government can’t fix this alone. It is us that can fix this through a combination of local leadership, collaborative working and a real determination to seize the moment and be decisive in changing our places for the better and forever.

As President Kennedy once said, “the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity.”