Britain’s Main Streets Fast Becoming Ghost Towns

Date: 1 Feb 2004 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

“A new retail feudalism is emerging across Britain as a handful of brands take over our shopping. We are witnessing the slow death of small independent retailers,” contends Andrew Simms, policy director for the London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF) and co-author of a new report called “Ghost Town Britain: The threat from economic globalisation to livelihoods, liberty and local economic freedom.”

According to the report, between 1995 and 2000, Britain lost one-fifth of its Main Street enterprises. Everything from corner shops and local grocers to pubs, bank branches, and post offices are steadily disappearing from town centers. The report warns that the country may soon reach a tipping point where the decline will accelerate sharply.

Many factors have contributed to the decline, notably the growth of large supermarkets and superstores on the outskirts of town, and the many policy and tax advantages they enjoy.

The report’s conclusions could easily apply to the United States: “Despite the government’s rhetoric in favour of sustaining small businesses. . . there is no willingness to tackle the real reasons why Britain’s towns are dying on their feet: increasing market domination by—and preferential policy treatment of—supermarkets; the failure to halt the ‘downsizing’ of banks and post offices; transport systems that encourage car travel; weak planning controls on out-of-town stores, and a lack of support for truly local enterprise.”

“Ghost Town Britain” outlines several policy recommendations. It favors giving local governments more authority to veto large developments, establish more stringent planning rules, channel resources into local purchasing, and develop tax and incentive policies that encourage Main Street shopping. It calls for boosting antitrust policy and enforcement, and requiring economic impact reviews for developments over 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet).

— Ghost Town Britain is available for download from the New Economics Foundation

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Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which partners with a wide range of allies to implement policies that counter concentrated power and strengthen local economies.