‘She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture…’
I've felt like something of a lone voice in all this - bashing away at the shiny regeneration on the one hand while pointing out to locovoracious folk that their dream of twee high streets filled with organic independent shops (probably workers co-ops or some other form of trendy model) is just as daft.
Indeed these people - epitomised by Julian Dobson - still bash away at the idea that there's some magical system of common ownership that will change the high street:
What’s broken isn’t just the retail model of HMV or Jessops, or the business rates system, or city centre parking, or any of the individual bugbears blamed for the demise of the high street. What’s broken is our own ability as citizens to share in the ownership, management and use of the spaces we occupy. It’s about the whole place, not just the shops.
“High streets should be run more like businesses. And businesses are run on the basis of strategic vision. However, unlike the sophisticated shopping malls or large retailers, high streets aren’t overseen by a single landlord or professional management body.”
A radical approach would be to transfer all that council owned land – the streets, the pavements, the market halls, the offices and the parks – into a for-profit company. Where, as in many places, the council owns freeholds of retail premises these can be added to the pot. And use that asset to create the excitement, the events and the environment – the “21st Century urban entertainment centre” that Ms Portas describes. That would be a radical approach rather than the rewarmed versions of existing – and mostly unsuccessful – strategies presented by Ms Portas.
The ownership of the company could vary – maybe co-operative or mutual, perhaps the local council or possibly a combination of these approaches. But it is essential – if the town centre is to be run like a business – the company is for profit. For it is the search for profit that makes the shopping malls and supermarkets creative, innovative and focused on getting the experience right for the customer.