HIP Correspondent ‘Granma’ rather doubts if Hastings’ High Streets are likely to benefit from a new Government Fund

Over Christmas the big news item after Brexit was sales, or rather the lack of them. Shops have been slashing prices up to 80% in a desperate bid for business. 

Footfall, or the number of people out shopping, has dropped 3% each year for the past three years. At the same time, dozens of familiar high street names have gone to the wall. Other old favourites including New Look, House of Fraser and Debenhams are at risk of following them. 

As a result town centres across the UK are turning into wastelands with boarded-up shops and derelict buildings. 

Some blame the government’s austerity policy: as central government funding dries up, cash-strapped local councils fall back on boosting their
income through exorbitant business rates and parking fees, which only compound the problem. 

But by far the biggest culprit is online shopping. Online’s share of UK retail sales now accounts for nearly 20% of the total market and is rising year-on-year. This internet tsunami is unstoppable. Choosing not to shop online is pointless. So what can be done? 

The most obvious solution is to convert empty shops and derelict premises back into the residential properties they were originally. One of the UK’s most pressing needs is for social housing and affordable homes for first time buyers, and our high streets offer a cost-effective solution. 

In addition to moving homes back into the high street, small niche enterprises, restaurants and cafés should be encouraged. This is already happening in Queens Road, where the Printed Matter bookshop rubs shoulders with Queens Deli, where dropping into See Spray on your way to Morrisons can turn shopping into a cultural experience, and where a coffee at the Grand Rue de Pera and a chat with patron Barbaros is a great way to start the day. All it lacks is decent housing. Frankly, I’d move in. Build sheltered housing for us elderly people in Queens Road and we wouldn’t be so isolated. 

The government has come to the same conclusion and to this end launched the ‘Future High Streets Fund’ on Boxing Day, which will give grants of up to £25 million each to councils with the best projects for converting empty shops into homes and workspaces and improving transport networks. The fund is worth £675 million and £55 million will be set aside for socalled ‘heritage high streets’.

Unfortunately, with 418 principal councils in the UK competing for £25 million grants (and why would anyone apply for less?) only 25 councils will benefit and 393 will lose out. All of them will no doubt waste thousands of pounds on specialist advisers and professional fundraisers depleting town hall coffers even further. This Future High Streets Fund is a drop in the ocean, a public relations puff for the government, and a load of seasonal humbug.

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