Our town centres are not dying, they are being destroyed. Destroyed by greedy landlords and profiteering developers, Big Business offshoring its money in tax havens, local Town Halls where corrupt planners are in the pocket of greedy developers and Big Business, where planners and councillors are clueless on what constitutes good town centre planning and how local economies function.
I love to visit Brighton.
Train to Gatwick, then to Brighton, but what a bloody pain when rail works, I have learnt do not even try.
When I arrive, I head straight down to the sea and walk along along the seafront, or head into North Laine and the seafront later. In the evening maybe take a walk along the Pier.
In North Laine, spoilt for choice. Excellent coffee shops, Coffee at 33, Pelicano, Dough Lover. Magazine Brighton where can pick up excellent magazines like Drift, Ambrosia, Standart. Infinity Foods or Hisbe for food supplies. Lunch at Iydea or Infinity Foods Kitchen. I always pop in Resident to see what is new.
What is great about North Laine, three long streets, little side streets, is that it is a Mecca of little shops, independent businesses. And not a corporate chain in sight
What though shocked me on a recent visit at the end of June, was the number of empty shops. I had not been in Brighton since last year, more than six months ago. Yes there has always been turnover, shops change, but not empty shops.
Earlier this year I was on a train from Lincoln to Nottingham in the company of three Dutch guys. They were heading to Nottingham for the football. Me, I was heading to some excellent coffee shops.
They asked me why all our towns were the same. The same crap corporate chains selling the same identical crap.
They told me that in Holland they had learnt. The corporate chains had gone, you can buy that crap on-line, to be replaced by individual local shops, coffee shops, little restaurants, in other words what makes North Laine so popular with visitors..
That is what I like in Europe, all the little shops, not corporate chains. Another big plus is that these areas are pedestrianised.
Why would anyone visit a town for the same crap chains that are in every other town?
Once I found myself in the Churchill Shopping Centre in Brighton. It was as though I had entered Dante’s Inferno, a retail version of hell, there should have been a big sign at the entrance, Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
In Nottingham, I find excellent little coffee shops, Cobden Chambers, a little courtyard through a gate, where is located a zero wast store, an indie record shop, Ideas on Paper (Nottingham’s answer to Magazine Brighton).
It is down the little sideways and allies that we find the independent businesses.
In York the quaint side streets.
It is quirky indie businesses that give the sense of place, character, that recycle money within the local economy.
Corporate chains destroy our towns, they make everywhere look ugly, no character, drain money out of the local economy to offshore in a tax haven. Boots, Starbucks, avoid tax.
Government is at fault but indirectly in failing to deal with tax dodging and pushing austerity which has left people with no spending money.
Greedy rogue landlords are a major problem. They fail to honour their repair obligations, hike rents which do not reflect the prevailing retail environment. They would rather see an empty shop and offset against tax than lower the rent.
In Winchester an excellent coffee shop Flat Whites has recently closed, landlord issues.
Where the fault lies is local Town Halls. Corrupt planners get into bed with greedy developers and Big Business, the planners are clueless on what constitutes good town centre planning or how local economies function.
Also to blame are local tourism bodies and business enterprise zones.
In Lincoln, Sincil Street, similar street scene to North Laine, runs parallel to the High Street. Once a thriving street of indie businesses. Between the hours of ten in the morning and four in the afternoon the street was busy. Local Coop bought up the street, drove out the local businesses, brought in crap chains, the same crap chains can be found in every ghastly shopping centre across the country.
Visit Lincoln and Lincoln BIG then hyped these chains. Visit Lincoln even took them on board as partners. The head of Visit Lincoln bragged how she took a visitor to Lincoln to Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln Castle and Cosy Club. Cosy Club a chain of fake 1930s bars, so fake a Monty Python parody of fake.
Visit Guildford promotes corporate chains, as does Enterprise Guildford.
Visit Lincoln goes overboard to hype chains. When asked why were they promoting 200 Degrees a small coffee chain when Lincoln has two excellent independent coffee shops, the answer was if they pay us we will.
It is not only Vinyl Revolution who are suffering, small businesses across the land are struggling. Unlike corporate chains they care about the local community where they live and work, often they are the backbone, and yet, look at any so-called town centre regeneration, it will brag about the corporate chains that are being brought in, often with low rents and nearly always to the detriment of indie businesses who are driven to the margins, assuming not actually driven out of business, rarely if every get a mention of the small businesses and where new retail development takes place it is ugly, it is filled with the same crap corporate chains as every other ugly retail development.
An example of this is the recently opened Tunsgate Quarter zombie shopping centre in Guildford, a handful of chains, boarded-up retail units, the only time people are seen is when it is raining and it provides a convention shortcut between the High Street and Castle Street and that is despite being hyped by Visit Guildford and Experience Guildford.
Do not drink the disgusting coffee in a corporate chain, find an indie coffee shop serving speciality coffee in glass or ceramic. Ask, and they will tell you other coffee shops to try. In Brighton it is even easier, pick up a copy of The Independent Brighton & Hove Coffee Guide.
I would never dream of buying in HMV, and it was no great loss when it went into administration.
But if I find myself in Guildford, I pop into Ben’s Records. He knows his customers, what they like. But even a shop like Ben’s is suffering.
Several years ago I found Brighton Books open. I heard interesting music playing. I queried what it was. Try Resident, it is the only place you will find it. I looked and could not find. I asked, they went straight to where it was and handed me a copy.
Sadly Brighton Books is one of indie businesses that has recently closed in North Laine.