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The death of UK high street

By Gordon Boyle

Now that the summer has ended, and we enter a quiet time for retailing before the busy Christmas period, the latest facts and figures for the UK high street are being published. There are no surprises with the traditional high street continuing to struggle as consumers continue to change their shopping habits, particularly when it comes to online shopping.

The latest details indicate that across the country 10 per cent of high street outlets are empty and the growth of charity shops continues with close to 11,000 shops, mostly in high streets. It is interesting to note that Oxfam, one of the largest charity shop chains, with over 600 shops has just opened their first out-of-town superstore.

Oxfam said it worked with a Swedish charity ahead of the launch of the store, which is based on an “out-of-town format”. The 18,500 sqft (1,718 sqm) store in Oxford has a drive-through option for people to drop off donations. They also launched an initiative encouraging people to stop buying new clothes and instead buy used gear as part of its Second Hand September campaign.

I decided to have a look at what is happening on the high street closer to home. We live in a small community with no shops. We have a good bus service to compensate and close by are two larger communities with a range of shopping options.

Auchterarder is just nine miles away and has a wide range of shops in their long high street with almost no empty shops. The population is around 5,000 and the town benefits by having one of the most prestigious hotels in Scotland next to the town with three world class golf courses.

There is only a mid-sized co-op supermarket in the town and if anyone wants to buy their groceries from a large chain, they must travel to Perth 25 minutes away by car. As a result, the high street has many food retailers from greengrocers to butchers and delicatessens.

Now, in the opposite direction is Dunblane, just six miles from our house. Dunblane has a larger population than Auchterarder at 9,000 but the difference in the high street is so different. There are several empty shops and in recent times the only electrical store and men’s clothes shop have thrown in the towel and closed. The high street is looking tired and it is not particularly busy.

Dunblane has a very famous cathedral and is also the birth-place of Andy Murray, the tennis player who has renovated one of the local hotels making it one of the best in the surrounding area.

The town has a Marks and Spencer food outlet less than a mile from the high street and a Tesco less than 0.5 miles away. It, also like Auchterarder, has a mid-sized co-op. It is just a 15-minute drive to Stirling where several of the large supermarket chains are located.

So, with one high street dying and one thriving what is the difference? I cannot ignore the fact that the local authority planners have allowed in the big boys in Dunblane, but this is not the case in Auchterarder. From this example it seems the planners are a key contributing factor when it comes to the death of the high street in the UK.

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