Empty shops

Les rues principales anglaises voient de plus en plus leurs magasins fermer définitivement. Pour la plupart, la compétition avec les détaillants qui s’étendent en périphérie de la ville est tout simplement trop forte. Les autorités locales ainsi que le gouvernement font de leur mieux pour trouver des solutions afin de revigorer les centres villes et de donner une nouvelle vie à ces rues commerçantes menacées. La crise économique ambiante n’est certainement pas d’une grande aide.

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British high streets are looking fairly desolate these days with the increase of empty shops. Indeed, the number of vacant shops blighting the UK’s high streets and shop centres has hit a new record of 14.6% in February, according to the figures delivered by the Local Data Company (LDC). Which means that about 20 shops close every day. It is a disaster and some will surely never fully recover. For example, Margate, a seaside town in East Kent, suffers the highest vacancy rate of 36.5% and Nottingham is the worst performing big center with more than 30% of its sites that are empty. These towns are also known as “ghost towns” or “clone towns”. To mask this scourge, in a lot of towns, City Hall has ordered to put some fake windows to reassure the inhabitants. A “Save our High Streets” campaign was even launched to help them struggle in the face of economic decline and the out-of-town growth of chain stores.

What happened ?

High streets continue to be hit by the increasing popularity of shopping online and out-of-town retail parks. Furthermore, consumers think twice before spending their money with the current crisis. It seems that “the feel good factor from the Olympics failed to inspire spending.” But consumption isn’t the only issue. Other reasons have more impact: the shops’ too expensive rents (usually around 40 percent of their turnover) or too long leases. And, in a time of crisis, when turnovers and sales are plummeting, the result is catastrophic, which is where we are today. And worse, the UK can’t even rely on its foreign investments to stop the bleeding: new foreign brands do not set up in the UK as it is more profitable to invest elsewhere in Europe.

Can this situation be fixed ?

It is crucial that landlords start proposing a set of recommendations to help tackle declining town centres and to reverse the damage that many high streets have suffered. A number of proposals are on the table: turning those vacant shops into homes, re-thinking how vacant property could be used differently (art galleries, pop up shops…), developing new businesses in the area… The Bear plan, a state plan, in 2009 was to help these “ghost towns” by re-investing in the vacant shops. Mary Portas, retail expert, intends to do exactly that: she calls for more to be done to boost trade and breathe life back into these high streets. But the results today are not convincing.

What is certain is that town centres need to adapt to this changing environment if they are to survive and thrive. Sadly, this means that many high streets will not return to their past glory once the economy recovers.

Manon SENNECHAEL & Arhtur MARTIGNONI

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