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Newsletter, April 2013 (Issue 191)

Long-term Future of High Streets

Not this again, you may think. But it's a changing situation and what was written, say, a year ago would need to be modified now. Last year, I did draft, but not use, an article on two facing pages - one a rosy view of the future of 'high streets' and one a black view, and they were of equal length and seriousness. I'm not so sure they'd be equal now.

Nation-wide closures of a number of big shops have left more gaps in our shopping streets which are impossible to ignore. Yet some of us who love Ipswich feel we have to defend our town as if Ipswich is doing something wrong. And we and some Ipswich-based organisations may try to reassure ourselves that it's an economic blip which market forces will correct in time. But even when the economy picks up, the mighty factors of internet shopping and out -of-town shopping will still apply. In the long-term it's hardly likely that the presently empty big shop premises will all be filled.

There are some encouraging initiatives already to be seen in our town. The previous Newsletter referred to the success of Patisserie Valerie in Butter Market and we can add now the arrival at last of a proper shoe repairer (not a heel bar) in the town centre, just across the road in the same street. But specialist newcomers don't need premises of the size of the former Croydons in Tavern Street, nor the vast floor area of the Co-op in Carr Street.

Rationally and ideally, 'high streets' would contract and businesses would move closer together leaving only a few empty premises. But the owners (mostly insurance firms, pension funds, etc) are holding on to capital assets expensively purchased and nominally still very valuable, even if empty. So, rational decisions won't be made overnight!

In the meantime, I should hope that people who value their 'high streets' will continue to use them regularly, whether for chain store purchases or specialist shopping (where it's more likely one could chat with staff) and, of course, for meeting friends in town. Only then could a vicious circle be avoided.

Neil Salmon

    Front cover of issue 191 Cover, issue 191

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