june-10-04Spend a moment driving down one of the country’s many ‘high street’ retail districts and you’ll notice two things: a distinct lack of pedestrians browsing the retail shops, and an even more distinct lack of shops.

It’s been called the ‘decline of High Street,’ and according to Stirling University retail studies professor Leigh Sparks, the decline is due to a change in consumer shopping habits, a conscious anti-High Street effort by national and local governments, and a serious lack of investment in many towns’ high street shopping areas.

Leigh Sparks is Professor of Retail Studies at Stirling University. He claims that one of the biggest reasons for the decline of high street shopping isn’t reduced consumer interest, but a conscious effort by local governments to reposition schools, football grounds, and offices away from the central shopping areas of many major towns.

Over the last few decades, schools and other major public buildings have spread out into suburban areas, often at the expense of high street, Spark claims. The professor believes that the best solution to the problem is to invest heavily in renovating and improving the central business districts of the UK’s small towns and cities.

Instead of investing in large projects in suburban areas, governments should invest in their town centres. Sparks claims that the problems faced by many small towns in Britain mirror those of their counterparts in the United States, and that the solution is to change our public investment strategy to encourage high street to grow again.

Consumers also shoulder some of the blame, the professor believes. Cheaper online shopping opportunities have driven many retailers out of business, while suburban malls have reduced the importance of high street. He believes that town centres are trapped in a decline that’s been going on for over 50 years.

With online retailers like Amazon taking aim at grocery stores and supermarkets, it could take a serious amount of public investment for town centres to return to their previous level of health. Professor Sparks claims that the retail sector and numerous local governments need to seriously ‘rethink’ their urban investment strategies.

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