OUR high streets are much more than just places to shop. They are where communities come together, where people get to know each other and where a sense of place and identity is strengthened.
Because of their importance to the life of cities, towns and villages, the difficulties that traditional shopping streets are facing is a matter of serious concern.
The new figures showing that the number of shoppers has fallen by 10 per cent over the past seven years make for depressing reading.
Online competition, of course, is chiefly to blame for the demise of so many shops, but a number of other factors are also in play, including the levels of rent and business rates, and the difficulties or cost of parking.
This is not only a problem for the retail sector. It is one for society and the Government. Streets of empty shops produce an air of decline and weaken the cohesiveness of communities, contributing to social problems including isolation, loneliness and mental difficulties.
Local authorities are doing what they can to aid high streets, but it is not their sole responsibility. This is a national issue, and though the Government has acknowledged that by allocating limited funds to boost their fortunes, much more needs to be done.
It cannot stand by whilst shopping streets decline into a protracted death. They are the heart and soul of communities large and small, and must be safeguarded for the people who gain much from them in so many ways.