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12:09pm Friday 1st June 2012 in Letters
Sir, – The Mary Portas Report to Government on the state of the high streets in England was the main subject of debate at a meeting when representatives of civic organisations from across the Hambleton area met at the Northdale Garden Centre in Northallerton recently.
The report had recognised the impact of supermarkets, out-of-town shopping centres and, more recently, internet trading upon the traditional high streets and markets.
It had noted the retreat from the high streets by many major retailing chains, the demise of many small traders and independent retailers, the empty shops and sites, and the consequent decay of traditional amenities and heritage properties. Mary Portas concluded that the high street had changed forever.
Hosted by the Allertonshire Civic Society and attended by delegates from Bedale, Easingwold and Osmotherley, the meeting examined these trenchant and unpalatable conclusions in the light of our local market towns, perceptions of current trends and their social impact.
While recognising the validity of Mary Portas’s conclusions in general, those present concluded that, despite some regrettable losses, our local high streets and markets were standing up well to the pressures, with few empty shops and a steady footfall of customers and visitors. The main threats to this pattern were the increasing problems of traffic congestion, parking and parking charges. Such factors encouraged buyers to seek out-of-town buying solutions, where all-day “retail experiences” were to be found.
Market towns offer a real contrast with a unique quality of life and quality of shopping, but this demands a concerted and consistent approach, not least from the local authorities in their attitude and support of local business and trade. It was noted that both Thirsk and Northallerton councils had abandoned local tourist information offices.
The meeting agreed that our market towns had to work harder to promote a pride in their heritage and to celebrate their contribution to the community. It welcomed the work of local forums in seeking to bring various interested parties together in meeting these challenges.
There is need for careful research to identify local market trends among consumers and visitors, to identify gaps in provision and to grapple with any factors that detract from the appearance and attractiveness of the high street and market areas We invite your readers to participate in this debate through your columns.
JOHN EDWARDS Press Officer, Allertonshire Civic Society.