Column: ‘We must all help to support our local retailers,’ Coun Peter Box

Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box
Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box

“I don’t mind admitting that, like many of you, I sometimes shop on the internet as it’s so convenient,” says Wakefield Council leader, Peter Box.

But whenever I’m in the district I like to walk at lunchtime into the city, towns or village centres. It’s a good way to get some exercise, helping to meet my daily target of walking 10,000 steps and a chance to chat to people about the issues that affect them.

Having visited dozens of different high streets in our district over the years it’s very clear they all have individual characters, are all unique and have all served a common purpose for many years - as places where people gather to shop and to meet others.

There is no doubt we’re now in a time of fundamental change in the way we shop and how we use our communal spaces and places. Like so many other places, our district’s city, towns and villages need to adapt to changing retail habits.

When I talk to people it’s clear they still value our high streets. But we can all see that it’s a very tough time for centres up and down the country. This is why it’s so important that we all play our part in supporting local retailers in our local communities and is the reason why I am backing the Love Your High Street campaign in the Express.

The recent Grimsey report, about UK town centres, highlights the bigger picture of what’s happening and found that nationally there’s an oversupply of shops. Footfall in town centres up and down the UK has decreased every year since 2013 and in the last decade has fallen by 17%. At the same time retail internet sales are now at 18% of all retail sales and are likely to grow to 30% by 2030.

We all need to consider the future of our high streets and what we want from them over the coming decades. No two places are the same and it’s clear when considering the way forward, no size fits all, as they all have differing needs and their own characters.

I have asked for a report for the Cabinet meeting in December, so that we can lay out the issues clearly and continue to discuss where we want our town and city centres to be in the coming decades. The challenges are complex and there are certain issues outside the council’s control, such as private landlords setting rents and business rates being set by the government.

We are constantly working with our partners including businesses and residents to support our centres. But we need the continuing support of residents and visitors to help our shops and businesses to grow and develop in these changing times.

The Grimsey report set out a strong set of proposals recommending for all towns to develop plans that are business-like and focused on transforming them into places that incorporate health, housing, arts, education, entertainment, leisure, business/office space, as well as some shops. Rightly, it recommends that each place retains its own character and way of doing things.

We are already working to diversify our offer and to rejuvenate our city and town centres, attracting new businesses into our urban centres. Our intention is to increase footfall and develop the independent retail sector, making us less reliant on large multiple operators.

We will look to take advantage of opportunities to bring more residential accommodation in our towns and cities, further develop our commercial office market to inject life and investment in to our shops, restaurants and bars. I am fully behind the Express’ campaign to get more people into our city, town and village high streets.

I want people to enjoy leisure and retail on their doorstep and to be proud of the places they live. As ever, I am interested in people’s thoughts and you can reach me at leader@wakefield.gov.uk