From the Times today:
EXETER is named today as the worst “clone town” in Britain with its High Street dominated by chains of fashion shops.
The city tops the league of 42 towns now offering identikit shopping with little local character. It has only one independent shop in its main street.
The findings are from a survey of 103 towns, with a population from 5,000 to 50,000, compiled by the New Economics Foundation, an independent think-tank. People were asked to list the first 50 shops they passed along a high street.
The make-up of most town centres appears to include Top Shop, Next, Marks & Spencer, Gap, W H Smith, Boots, Debenhams, Tesco Express or Metro, Sainsbury’s Local, banks, a mobile phone shop, a music shop such as HMV, and Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Café Rouge.
Hardly any high streets have a cinema or theatre, pet shop or veterinary surgery, off-licence, hardware store, dry cleaner or launderette…
Andrew Simms, NEF policy director, said that the survey was a warning that other historic towns were under threat from poor planning controls. He said: “The key parts of our towns, which should be the beating heart of a community, have been hollowed out by the big chains.” .
Hebden Bridge, a market town in West Yorkshire, is, however, named the most characterful shopping centre. Other “home towns” with distinctive identity are Peebles, Hadleigh, Great Malvern and Lewes.
John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is being lobbied to ensure that councils take greater note of local character.
The NEF is calling for a moratorium on all new takeovers of small chains and convenience stores by the supermarkets. It also wants the Competition Commission to force main retailers to limit their assets to an 8 per cent share of the market.
One suggestion is that developers should allocate a percentage of any new retail complex to independent outlets in the same way that councils often force housebuilders to include cheaper housing on estates.
One can almost hear Morrissey composing a lyric as he reads this.
Actually, it reminds me of Bill Bryson’s constant whinge in his rather patronising and tedious tome, Notes from a Small Island.
His complaint, as he hacked around the highways and byways of Britain, was that too many towns were starting to look the same, and he bemoaned the loss of local identity in historic market towns as the chains take over.
While it is rather dull and dispiriting to visit a provincial High Street and be confronted with the same old shops, one can’t help thinking it’s a bit rich of Bryson.
After all, these aren’t museums erected for the pleasure of yankee hikers. Most don’t even advertise themselves as tourist destinations. People actually have to live in them, you know, all the time.
If the locals didn’t want to use Tesco and Next, Tesco and Next wouldn’t come.