Leader comment: We must look after beating heart of our communities

Places like Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow should be vibrant places, full of people (Picture: John Devlin)
Places like Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow should be vibrant places, full of people (Picture: John Devlin)
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A perfect storm of problems has hit the high street so it may need some help.

The shops and other businesses that make up the heart of our cities and towns have been hit by what could be called a perfect storm of high rents, business rates rises and the growing popularity of internet shopping.

And, with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looming larger every day, the situation could be about to get considerably worse.

The trend is so marked that concern has been growing all over the world about what are called ‘donut cities’ in which few people actually live, work or shop in the centre. If this was allowed to happen, it would be a bizarre and inefficient way to arrange human habitation.

Part of the problem is the rapidity of the changes taking place to the way we live.

READ MORE: Scotland has more vacant high street shops than anywhere else in UK

With perhaps one foot in the past, some property owners may still expect a certain level of rent and government officials a certain amount of rates that, in some cases, are no longer sustainable based on the profits being made.

The high street has already seen some high-profile casualties and if the amount of money being spent online continues to grow, the situation will only get worse.

Much of this trend is an inevitable part of the march of progress. But as a society we need to try to manage the situation to ensure that any adverse side-effects are minimised.

City and town centres should be vibrant places, full of people. Urban decay is a sign that we are getting it wrong.

The direction of travel seems to be fairly doggedly headed towards fewer shops and more restaurants and places of entertainment.

READ MORE: Five shops close every week on Scotland’s high streets

As that continues, city planners may need to reconsider issues like pedestrianisation. Someone going into town to buy shoes, books and a raincoat might welcome a handy parking space on a nearby street, but those looking to enjoy a leisurely meal are likely to find this more pleasant on a quiet street free from traffic noise and pollution.

So, yesterday’s appeal by the Scottish Retail Consortium for a business rates freeze should be seriously considered. Governments need to raise tax revenue but they also need to be alive to the consequences of doing so, particularly when the situation on the ground changes.

Helping existing retailers, even those with a limited future, will give us time to repurpose our town centres to ensure they remain the beating heart of our most important communities.