Give us backing and we can save our high streets

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Yorkshire’s high streets need the support of local and national government, and must take action themselves to evolve, if they are to survive.

This was the view of retailer experts and commentators across the region.

From large-scale retail consultancy firms to independent traders, there is a consensus that England’s high streets can survive given the right backing and support.

Kate Hardcastle, partner at Yorkshire-based retail consultants Insight with Passion, is an enthusiastic champion of the high street.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “I do not agree that town centres should just be forgotten about. You cannot live in a community without a town centre.

“That said, shops do need to adapt and change.

“It is very much about listening to what the customer wants. Running a retail business in 2012 is very different to it was in 1992 and a lot has to be done to give retailers a fighting chance.

“Yes you might not be able to compete with Tesco, but that doesn’t mean you just put your head in the sand. It is good to be different.

“It doesn’t have to be the end just because there are more supermarkets. Businesses should take the opportunity to show that, as opposed to supermarkets. They can do their customers very well by showing how knowledgeable they are as butchers, bakers or whatever they work as.”

The British Retail Consortium said government had a role to play when it comes to supporting smaller businesses and that blaming supermarkets for taking trade was not an accurate assessment of the current climate.

A spokesman said: “Other factors such as pricing and access in terms of deliveries play a role too. Often there has been a failure over many years in town centres to keep them as safe attractive places.

“To become fixated on the idea that suburban out-of-town developments are to blame is missing the point.

“What we need is a really positive approach to revitalise town centres.”

Margaret Dale, part of the Keep Holmfirth Special group, is currently part of a campaign to prevent a Tesco being built on the outskirts of the town.

However Ms Dale said she and traders would welcome a supermarket in the town, provided it would complement the current retail offering.

“We have been absolutely clear that we are not against Tesco or against supermarkets,” she said.

“We would support a local development that was closer to the town centre and would not draw shoppers away from it.

“I live here and believe that this town has distinctive qualities. We need to build on what we have already and work on appropriate development to make sure the town has a vibrant future.”

She added that she and her organisation were keen to work with Tesco and had made efforts to hold discussions with the retailer on how best to pursue the situation, efforts which have remained fruitless.

Attempts to discuss the situation with Tesco proved fruitless.

Ms Dale said that if the development went ahead there was a “great likelihood that shops would have to close”.

“To quote Mary Portas: ‘We have sacrificed community for convenience’”.

However Brian Scaife, who run a butcher’s shop in Hornsea holds a different view.

A supermarket began trading in Hornsea two months ago and already the traders on the town’s high street are feeling the effects he said.

“I am now down to trading three days a week,” he said. “I am a pensioner and run the business for something to do. If I had a mortgage to pay this would not work out.

“I can compete with a supermarket on quality and on price but I cannot compete on convenience, and that is key to what they have to offer. They offer target offers which give you savings with one had and take it away with the other.

“Twenty years ago I had two full-time staff, as well as my wife and I, working here. Now it’s just myself and a woman who I give a few hours to, and that is only because the pet shop she was working at here closed down.

“There is no real future for the high street here.”

Section 1, Comment: Page 16.