HIGH STREET SURVEY: What you value in your town centre

If there were one thing you could do to improve your high street, what would it be?

By Paul Larkin
Saturday, 11 May, 2019, 11:21
Queen Street, Amble

That was one of the questions posed in the Gazette’s survey which aims to re-focus shoppers’ and town planners’ attention on the hub of our communities.

The answers were many and varied, but the most common answer was more shops, attracting 22% of responses.

Narrowgate in Alnwick.

This flies in the face of the predictions about the nature of our high streets in the future. During a visit to Alnwick, retail expert Bill Grimsey forecast that the traditional high street as we know it will disappear in just a few years at the expense of online shopping.

But our survey says that shops and cafés, particularly local, independent ones, are still important to a lot of visitors to the town centres.

Specifically, local food shops, a shoe shop, green grocer, fishmonger, ladies and children’s clothing.

To make way for the extra shops, fewer charity outlets was the top scorer (12%), with using empty premises (10%), and fewer estate agents in the heart of the high street also mentioned.

Some of Grimsey’s ideas were embraced, with plenty of support for attractions, events, more public spaces and better street furniture.

The recent drive to reduce our carbon footprint can only help the cause of the high street, as people abandon cars and try to shop locally. That ties in with a big vote for keeping our streets tidy (10%), introducing pedestrianisation or traffic measures (8%) and fewer cars in general (6%).

The look of the main shopping streets scored surprisingly highly, with many of you concerned about the state of pavements (2%), the amount of litter and dog poo (3%) and the poor maintenance of shop frontages (4%). These could be seen as relatively easy quick-wins.

Some 13% of you said if you had a magic wand you would reduce the rents and rates to encourage more businesses to set up. A whole raft of other ideas were also suggested, including better parking and using floors above shops for more living space.

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The survey also found that a whopping 92.7% of people use the high street’s independent shops and cafés, a ringing endorsement of the importance of local shops to any community. Here are some of your comments:

* They are personal, quaint, and the feel that you get of supporting local businesses than feeding the fat cat at the top of a chain.

* Independent shops have character – and characters!

* Variety, homemade local produce usually brought from local suppliers.

* A friendlier atmosphere; less commercialised and more relaxed social space.

* I love the personal service in independent shops, where you get something different.

* They’re different, they give you the reason to come in to town.

* Variety, personal service and sometimes essential safety advice.

* Service with a smile and the time to chat and make customers feel welcome and valued.

More results in next week’s Gazette.