Move over Portas, the future of UK’s high streets is in the hands of the local councils
Talking is fine but doing is better. And it’s a combination of the latter combined with listening to local retailers that will save Britain’s high streets.
The soon to be upgraded shop fronts in Frances Road, Leyton
As parliament prepares to extend its inquiry into Britain’s retail sector, i.e. more talking, some local councils are actually getting on with the hard graft of restoring our high streets.
Restoring a high street is no mean feat but it can be done. Success comes when councils work in partnership with local retailers and shoppers, and Waltham Forest Council is a prime example of this.
The outer London Borough has committed to spending £9m on regenerating local shopping parades in nine areas over the next two years. Work has already been completed in Leyton and Walthamstow with marked improvement.
Under the 'Better High Streets' initiative, all nine areas will receive shop front and street improvements. To help retailers, the council has produced two best practice guides, including a ‘Shop Front Design Guide’, which advises developers and retailers on how they can change the external appearance of a shop including design advice and what work requires permission. The council is bang on in recognising that the outside of a store needs to look as inviting as the inside, and that isn’t the job of one but every shop on the whole high street.
The council should be applauded for its initiative. More importantly, the scheme is already demonstrating that it’s working because it has secured the trust and support of the local retailers and local residents. It signifies a move away from central government and Mary Portas figure heads, and a step towards working in closer proximity with retailers.
The reason why schemes like the Portas Pilot haven’t worked is because while dialogue may have been two-way, it’s been between Mary and the council only. That’s not to say the councils involved in Portas’ initiative haven’t been presented with a unique opportunity to try something different, but much of the money allotted has been wasted on meetings and consultants rather than working from a grass-roots level.
Good intention alone will not save Britain’s high streets. Local projects like the one from Waltham Forest are the way forward and if enough councils follow suit, we should see bigger, better and faster results than all the centralised government initiatives put together.
Ultimately what the Waltham Forest Council example shows us is that restoring the UK's High Streets is an achievable vision. It also feels a lot less like PR and spin (*cough* Portas *cough*) and more like something is actually happening.
Nick Gray is managing director at Live & Breathe