Have you noticed how the media are currently discussing the decaying state of high streets up and down the country, and the problems are common whatever city they are discussing.
Shops are closing due to high business rates and their inability to compete on a level financial playing field with online shopping. Shops are being replaced with eateries, mobile phone, betting and e-cigarette outlets. Department stores aren't customer-focussed enough and are doomed to fail like Woolworths.
And so what are councils proposing to do about it?
Well, they talk a good game, that's for sure. Unfortunately councils have no coherent vision for what a high street should be and so they come up with an incoherent hotch-potch of ideas that basically says, "if you are prepared to invest in the high street, then you are welcome whatever, or whoever, you are". Councils want to see eateries, restaurants, pubs, shops, residents, hotels, street cafes, parklets, cyclists, pedestrians, electric vehicles all living in perfect harmony, creating a bustling and glowing ambience of cultural festivity.What a load of bollocks. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and all because councillors haven't got a singular vision or dare I say a clue about what they should do with the high street.
This "throw everything together" mix simply won't work. Encourage families to live in the city centre? And then what, approve a pub next door so the loud music and drunks can keep the baby awake till three in the morning? Or maybe we should extend the licensing hours till 4 in the morning and keep the baby, and parents, awake for another hour. How's about we stick a taxi rank outside the door of the apartment block for good measure, as we don't want taxi ranks down quiet streets where fighting might break out, and then the residents can also enjoy the sound of revellers all year round outside their bedroom window, any time of day or night, for added joy.
And what about all the beggars and homeless people harassing folk walking along the high street. Are residents meant to put up with this every day as they leave their home to go to work, and then again when they return home?
Councils really need to think long and hard before encouraging families to reside on the high street. Who is going to police the high street to ensure drunks and revellers aren't shouting out at the top of their voices at three in the morning.Who is going to stops the drunks ringing the security door bells of family apartments at three in the morning? Not the police that's for sure. In Aberdeen, on Union Street, they are never to be seen.
What about cyclists on pavements? Do we have to wait for a pedestrian to be killed or injured before someone tells them to stay off the pavement?
What councils need to do is cut the business rates for shops so that they can compete with online shopping. Then the shops need to ensure they are as cheap as the online shops. John Lewis can price match, so why can't Debenhams?. High street shops do have advantages over online shopping. Firstly you can touch, feel and try on the goods. Secondly, the goods are generally available immediately, you don't have to wait. Thirdly, there are no delivery charges. It seems to me, that high street shops can be saved, everyone involved just needs to get their act together. If councils and shops could do all this, online shopping wouldn't be so attractive, would it?
So councils, get your act together. Think about the consequences of this free-for-all approach, and come up with a simplified, coherent vision whereby the high street can be a success again. To be honest, the old high street structure was and still is the most viable. Shops just need a break, and councils and government can provide it.