This is the most transformational period in the history of high streets. And local high streets in Folkestone Central ward are not immune.
At present there are 50 shops closed or to let in Sandgate Road, Guildhall Street, Rendezvous Street, The Old High Street and Tontine Street. All of these empty or to let shops are in Folkestone Central ward. How has it come to this? And why less than two months away from an election has the incumbent local Tories decided to make money available from their magic money tree to deal with the issue?
The future of our high streets depends on how we act now. I live in Folkestone Central ward, shop in the ward, eat and drink in the ward. I know many of the local businesses which risk their money and try to provide us with what we want and need. And I thank each of them for it. They have faith in our town, they love our town; and I want to help and assist them stay in business and thrive. At the end of this post I set out four ideas which may help and assist our high streets across the wonderful district we live in.
I would ask our Council along with other Councils in Kent to lobby central government as business rates are a regressive tax that hit firms before they have made their first penny in turnover, let alone profit. You see the consequences in our towns across the district. This tax hollows out our high streets – where we have 50 shops empty or to let – and puts companies like our local Waterstones, Wilko’s or Wollen Shop at a disadvantage to retailers like Amazon.
Business rates increased in April 2018, for the second year in a row, following a government review. Such increases work in favour of online retailers such as Amazon, as their out-of-town warehouses are worth less than high-street property and such retail giants pay little tax, so fail to contribute significantly to our high streets or our communities. This needs to change and I would if elected do everything in my power to lobby central government to change business rates.
Hundreds of local business owners risk their money each and every day. They provide jobs and are the heartbeat of our local community that fuels the local economy. It is the reason why people are moving to Folkestone as it is such a great place to work, rest and play.
We need to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as a destination for socialising, culture, health, well-being, creativity and learning. This can be done. We need new people, with new ideas, and that’s where you come in. Voting for Bryan Rylands on May 2nd would allow the journey to begin to saving our high streets. It is one where we can all play our part because if we don’t use it we will lose it.
So here are just four IDEAS to help repopulate our towns with shops we need and want:
“Virtual” High Streets: Today we all live online too. I would like Town Teams to create an online ‘bottom up’ virtual version of their high street which is the easy automatic ‘go to’ for all things to do with our local district. We could use online tools and software to get people thinking and talking about their high street, not as a ‘council of despair’ but to contribute in a positive. The Virtual High Street would show you all offers, across all shops and businesses. There could be a My Town Loyalty Card which joins up all businesses together. In addition, the Virtual High Street creates a Town Teams, with the findings disseminated for use as best practice guidance. In addition the Virtual High Street could make a powerful social forum for people to share and discuss. There’s real potential in finding who lives locally and what skills they can offer to their town.
Work-Shops: Instead of working from home people could and perhapsshould have the chance to come onto the high street and work together in ‘hubs’, re-appropriating vacant units to create a shared space where entrepreneurs can work and be creative with ‘hotdesking’ for startups. I want to see working co-ops in town centres using other vacant units as ‘showrooms’ for their products and services.
Swapshop: We should be investigating and encouraging a new type of community shop which brings into the real world the skills people have honed online through sites such as ebay. A place people can exchange and sell goods for money or services. So a fashion student could sell their designs in the same way as a gardener could swap his services with those of a plumber.
Many online businesses are now looking for bricks and mortar, for example as a place for collecting all those deliveries from the things we buy online that few of us are ever actually at home to receive. The high street can play a part in that. These depositaries will become like a Post Office. We need to act now to ensure that these key new community services are located right on our high streets where we need them rather than in malls or out-of-town retail parks