The health of our High Streets is a subject which has never been far from the news headlines during 2012 – we got fired up by the launch of Portas Review a whole year ago and now another body, the rather dramatically named Distressed Retail Property Taskforce this week started work in the same area.
Over the past weeks and months I’ve had many interesting conversations with people on the subject and there’s no doubt that, even though ‘we’re-all-internet-now’, people care a great deal about the immediate environment of their local High Street and have a deeply rooted interest in what becomes of those landmarks.
One of the aspects which both the taskforces mentioned above have identified is a lack of hard data in the area. Mary Portas called for a property register for each town to reveal the owners of properties.
Not only would this make the issue more transparent, it would also, so the argument goes, make the owners take more responsibility for the building’s state of repair and in the case of empty shops be easier for people to make contact to start new enterprises etc.
The new taskforce has said it will spend six months gathering ‘hard evidence on the true scale of the problem and the towns worst affected.’ It has similarly pointed up a dilemma for both landlords and the banks.
“Many landlords are also slow to cut the rents they demand in order to attract new tenants, because they have to earn a minimum rental income to keep up with their debt payments.
“And that means the landlords and the banks that lent them the money to buy their properties in the first place, find themselves in the same boat together,” reports BBC business correspondent Emma Simpson.
Here at Talk About Local we’ve always felt there’s a role here for hyperlocal sites – in among the big business interests and complexity of planning regulations there lies a basic need for some better local data, a public respositary for it and a way to share the knowledge of the town. At a local level, the High Street ownership issue seems like a very basic piece of information to be able to access – could hyperlocal sites using the facilities granted under Freedom of Information go somewhere towards taking a lead in this area?
And then the other side of the equation is that perception of what’s happening, those important feelings that people have about their High Streets. Taking the temperature of how people feel about their High Streets is never going to be easy so I’ve been working on a project to do that with the n0tice.com platform that I first started working with while at the Guardian Media Group.
Using either the n0tice platform or Instagram or Twitter, people across the UK are being asked to point up things they want to #celebrate or things they want to #change and tag their postings #myhighstreet.
The initiative has just been running for a couple of weeks and already the results are showing interesting experiences which have been built-up on the dedicated noticeboard www.highstreet.n0tice.com and into this neat interactive infographic.
It will be interesting to see how collecting this sort of ‘soft data’ of perception alongside the hard, cold facts of the taskforce activity builds deeper insights over the coming weeks, many more conversations to come………
* The Future of the High Street: The Next Steps in Revitalising Our Town Centres is the subject of a seminar orgainsed by the Public Policy Exchange later this month. I shall be participating and will report back on the proceedings here.