History of the High StreetOn the 7th November, The Telegraph produced a report on the number of empty shops found on the UK high street. The figures make quite startling and sad reading. It is now estimated that there are around 48,000 empty retail properties throughout the country. It means that one in every seven shops is left unoccupied.

The most significant finding about this report, however, is just how fast the rate of this vacancy has increased over the last year. According to the Local Data Company (LDC) and British Property Federation, the number of shops that closed between 2000 and 2009 was estimated to be 15,000. However, between 2010 and 2011 alone, a staggering 10,000 closed.

So what has caused this dramatic decline? Well it’s a combination of factors. We’ve just experienced our country’s worst ever peace time recession. There has been a growth in online shopping and out of town shopping malls and banks have been reluctant to lend. In reality it’s a perfect storm and the government is now encouraging business property owners to look at the way they lease. We need to get these derelict buildings occupied.

According to the Distressed Retail Property Taskforce, the industry-wide group headed by retail expert Mary Portas, landlords need to look at new solutions. Many of the buildings they acquired in the good times are now no longer worth what they brought them for and Mary and her team have produced a review that suggests actions to be taken.

Amongst her recommendations, Portas advises the removal of unnecessary trader regulations, a review of business rates and free controlled parking sites. All suggestions surround the removal of barriers to entry for the business owners and accessibility problems for the shoppers.

The government have come under criticism for not reacting quicker to Portas’ review and many are losing faith in their reluctance to tackle the issue at all. As more firms like Comet, JJB Sports, Barretts and La Senza go over, consumers are quickly loosing confidence.

Mark Williams, chairman of the new taskforce and partner at asset managers Hark Group, said: “The wider economic, consumer and retail markets have moved at a pace that our high streets and property in general, have not been fast enough to adapt. The reasons for this need careful examination as a way of understanding what the current property-related barriers to rejuvenation are, and what the range of options or solutions could be.”

Georgina Whyatt, an academic at Oxford Brooks University, produced a paper in 2004 on Town Centre Management. One of the consequences, according to Whyatt, is that many people feel isolated even when in a crowd. "Increasing numbers of consumers are looking for a system of purchasing goods and services that support social interaction of the communal type," she claims. The high street can provide a wealth of experiences, through markets to street entertainers, a real social hub. If high streets become residential or completely office run, this will be lost forever.

At Carr & Westley we have always valued community and would love to open a high street shop of our own. In the past we have looked into this possibility but found the rental costs, business rates and logistic barriers too great to make the idea feasible. We feel it is a real shame as we would like to add more touch points to our brand and if only it was more affordable and supportive, we believe we, like others, could contribute a great deal.