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I want to see the town centre zing
Good news is in short supply these days.
So it’s great to be able to celebrate the “Gold Award” which Capital and Regional plc, the big national property company, have received for their fantastic extension to The Mall Blackburn.
This award, as this paper reported earlier this week, was made by the British Council of Shopping Centres, who really do know what does and does not work in the current retail environment.
One aspect of the new Mall development which particularly impressed the judges was the partnership approach between Capital & Regional, and Blackburn with Darwen Council.
But, as ever, this is no time for complacency.
The award’s presentation coincides with the publication of the independent review of the future of our high streets conducted by the retail expert Mary Portas, for the Government.
In her report Ms Portas says that “our high streets have reached crisis point”.
Few can doubt that as a generalisation.
I want to see Blackburn town centre really zing; but I visit plenty of towns across the country, and many of their centres are in bad way; for some, their condition is almost terminal.
Ms Portas charts what has happened, nationally.
In 2000, town centres accounted for half (49.4per cent) of all retail sales.
Today the share is 42.5 per cent.
In three years it will be below 40 per cent.
The biggest change, unsurprisingly has been in “non-store” sales — ie the internet — which has doubled from 5 per cent to 10 per cent over the same period, and will go on rising.
That growth has however hardly affected local neighbourhood shops; and out- of-town stores have increased their share. It’s the high street which has taken the hit.
Crucially, Ms Portas says that Ministers must have special powers to control out-of-town developments.
An early test will be in respect of the plan to extend the Whitebirk shopping centre, which could harm Accrington in particular.
It’s not all gloom.
Some town centres are bucking the trend — Barnsley, Brixton, Coventry are all named. We have the foundation to make sure that Blackburn’s in that list too.
We just have to make sure that happens.
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