RUGBY MP Mark Pawsey spoke in a Commons debate on the future of town centres and high streets.
Mr Pawsey shared his optimism about the town centre’s survival compared to other high streets, and once again welcomed the findings of the Portas Review, acknowledging the need for a ‘new strategy’ if town centres are to survive in their current form.
During the debate Mr Pawsey highlighted the very real pressure on town centres coming from increased internet sales.
The Centre for Retail Research has estimated that internet sales made up 12 per cent of UK retail trade in 2011. A growing proportion of online sales may mean fewer shops will be needed, as in the absence of growth town centres will inevitably shrink.
In providing a strategy for the future, Mark suggested that some commercial properties could revert to their original residential purpose, or that towns could look to increase their population size to support the high street.
Speaking after the debate Mr Pawsey said: “The latest figures indicate that 6 per cent of the shops in Rugby town centre were empty. Whilst this is by no means an ideal position, it is below the national average which currently stands at about 14 per cent. I am proud of these figures, but there is much more work to be done. Either towns must look to reduce the number of shops in their town centre, or alternatively increase their population to sustain them. I don’t see how communities can speak about disappointment at town centre decline if they don’t accept the need for more local housing. I continue to praise Ruby Borough Council for its forward thinking approach to housing, and look forward to the new developments at the Gateway and Mast sites.”
Mr Pawsey continued: “As part of her review of the high street Mary Portas visited Rugby and mentioned the town’s ‘champions of change’ in her final report. Mary’s recommendations included the importance of protecting independent traders on our high streets. I agree with this assessment and I would like to take this opportunity to praise Rugby’s fantastic independent traders, such as those located in Regent Street and Albert Street. People are increasingly bored with the uniformity of multiple and chain stores, and independent shops offer a real difference to consumers.
“What we must realise is that town centres represent more than just business hubs. Thriving and successful high streets are crucial to the culture and community feeling within a town. Town centre decline impacts negatively on so many other services, such as libraries, coffee shops and the night time economy. If we do not take immediate steps to protect and develop our high streets, the community spirit that this country has enjoyed for so long will be seriously eroded.”