Monday, 30 June 2014

Clone Town Sidmouth?

There has been a lot of interest in the Town Council's consultation on the future of Sidmouth:
Futures Forum: What next for Sidmouth: VGS AGM: results in the press

Here is a very pertinent comment today from the Save Our Sidmouth website:

How to improve Sidmouth

June 30, 2014 by sidmouthsid Leave a comment

The Town Council’s consultation with the public on this matter, will have been well received. Sidmouth’s future needs to be carefully steered, of course, through changing times and needs, to ensure it continues to thrive.

Some insidious changes to Sidmouth are described in the following 2012 survey, and a lot has happened since then: 

Clone Town Britain – Sidmouth Survey

How to improve Sidmouth | Save Our Sidmouth

This is the analysis from two years ago 
- together with a full spreadsheet of the shops on the High Street in Sidmouth:

Clone Town Britain – Sidmouth Survey

October 29, 2012 by monstershark 1 Comment

View the Clone Town Britain, Sidmouth survey, May 2012, by Marianne Rixson

with postscript below:

Marianne writes:

“It’s almost six months since this nef (New Economics Forum) survey, Clone Town Britain, was done for Sidmouth. Some shops have changed in the interim. Has Sidmouth grown ever closer to clone town status? Yet I know some of the people I have worked with come from Exeter and Exmouth to shop because of our individual shops.

Exeter, of course, is a prime example of a shopping centre which has nothing but chain stores. In the main shopping street, can you name any shop which does not fall into this category (see reference to Exeter p.11, clone town report by nef)?”

‘Exeter, South West: The high street in Exeter, Devon, prides itself as ‘the heart of one of the West Country’s biggest and liveliest shopping centres…packed with many famous national names including Marks & Spencer, Laura Ashley, H & M, Dingles (House of Fraser), Next, Cargo Home Store, Boots, Country Casuals and Ann Harvey. Not surprisingly Exeter also takes the bottom score of the surveys received – a mere 6.9 out of 60. Amongst the shops counted on the high street, there was only one independent shop – the rest were chains. A broader range of independent shops can be found on side streets, however, but it was noted that few visitors or even locals find their way there.’

Marianne continues:

“Not only have most of the independent shops been driven off the high street, but Exeter is also bottom in terms of diversity of shop type, with only 10 out of 25 categories represented. Overall, there is little more than clothing retailers, a few electronics shops and some stationery or bookstores on the high street. Unsurprisingly, the rents on the high street are also extremely high. Information from the Exeter & District Consumer Group reveals that they rise upwards from around £30,000 a year, with the business rate adding at least another £120,000.

Nuff said, really!”

Clone Town Britain – Sidmouth Survey | Save Our Sidmouth

nef's surveys from 2005 and 2010:
Clone Town Britain | New Economics Foundation
Reimagining the high street | New Economics Foundation

Plus comment on the 2010 report:

Paul Squires, the co-author of the report said: 'The towns most dependent on the big chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable to the economic crisis. The government’s “Big Society” idea cannot be built on these fractured local economies, represented so clearly by the empty shop fronts along our high streets.'

'It’s not all doom and gloom,' Paul continued; 'we found many towns that are thriving with initiatives to retain local diversity. The local currency schemes in Lewes and Brixton, for example; community buy-outs of post offices and pubs from Yorkshire to Cornwall; and loyalty cards for shopping at independent retailers from London to Penzance.'

Elizabeth Cox, co-author of the report added: 'We need to completely re-evaluate what we use our high streets for now that the age of mass retail is juddering to a halt. Our high streets could become places where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities including working, sharing, exchanging, playing and learning new skills. As the hub of our communities, the high street could become the place where we begin to build a more sustainable world.'

Almost half of UK towns remain 'clone towns' lacking high street diversity: are High Street Transition Hubs the answer? | RUDI - Resource for Urban Development International

And further comment from nef in 2012 - which strikes a rather positive note on the NPPF:

Time is running out for clone towns

Photo credit: mr.beaver

Whatever other drawbacks there may be for the National Planning Framework, which came out last week, it marks a victory for nef’s seven-year campaign against clone towns – and to revitalise high streets as the beating hearts of local economies.

Planning minister Greg Clark spelled out the implications for out-of-town shopping centres in the House of Commons, making it clear that – in a framework dedicated to ‘sustainable development’ – out of town shoppingwas not sustainable.

The Planning Framework itself doesn’t go quite so far, but it is very clear that town centres come first. It is a slap down for those very powerful interests which have, in recent months, been calling for high streets to be abandoned. The retiring head of Land Securities, Francis Salway, interviewed on BBC Radio 4 last week, effectively admitted that it is in the business DNA of profit hungry retail chains to be fair weather friends to communities. For long term success and quality of life, town centres need local retailers who are bound by more than a desire to extract cash from consumers’ pockets.

What is also clear, reading the Framework in full, is that the coalition has taken on board many of the objectives of the Clone Town Britain campaign. It instructs planning authorities to “recognise town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality”.

But that is not all:
Town centres will have to demonstrate their “individuality” and a “diverse” retail offer. Clone towns are clearly out.
Markets have to be enhanced and, where they can be, re-introduced. So the coalition has also listened to some of Mary Portas’ recommendations.
Bigger developments will require ‘impact assessments’ to see how they would affect “town centre vitality and viability” – not just now but five years ahead, taking a leaf out of the approach of several cities in the United States. The kind of superstore that corrodes the economy around it will not be allowed.

This is all subject to local interpretation, and there can be many slips between cup and lip. It may not work out as expected. It may, for the time being, put money into the hands of lawyers. But in the right hands, an imaginative and far-sighted local council, this is a huge tilt of the balance of power away from the big retailers.

The days of clone towns are running out, and local economies will thrive the better for it.

Time is running out for clone towns | New Economics Foundation

Indeed, how strong is the promise or threat from 'out-of-town' developments?
Futures Forum: The changing face of the high street ... the promise of the big box store
Futures Forum: The changing face of the high street ... the death of the shopping mall

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