A paper from the cross-party think tank argues that the decline of traditional high street shopping is inevitable, meaning ministers should focus less on slowing that decline than on supporting new and more beneficial uses for town-centre sites.
A major programme of converting retail units for residential use could allow the creation of 800,000 new homes, the SMF report calculates. Many of those homes should be built by local councils and other public bodies in a major expansion of social housing. It adds that central government should write off tens of billions of pounds of local councils’ debt to support that programme.
The SMF report, entitled A New Life for the High Street, argues that the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate pre-existing trends including a shift away from shopping in urban centres.
As more and more workers spend at least some of their working week working at home, footfall in town centres will decline and more retailers will collapse. Instead of trying to arrest the inevitable decline of high-street retailers with promises to ‘save the high street’, the SMF’s Scott Corfe said that national and local politicians should deploy radical new measures to stimulate new life in urban centres and support unemployed retail staff.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) - Let high street shops die – and build new homes in their place
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