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The Death of Small Town Britain

Updated on July 3, 2009

I have pretty much lived in the same town all my life. It’s a small traditional market town in the south of England which for years was a bustling hive of activity with family run businesses and a market which was heaving at the seams. But these days it is no more than a shell of its former self with a string of empty premises, a market which struggles to get enough stall holders let alone customers and a lack of any uniqueness.

But where has it all gone wrong, why are the family run businesses going out of business quicker than you can get a double choc mochachino from your local Starbucks. I could point a finger at the supermarkets which have gone from supplying a vast range of food to supplying everything under the sun. But they are not totally to blame for the death of the small town. I could say it is people in general not wanting to traipse from shop to shop but seeing people walking up and down a desolate high street I don’t blame them when there are no shops to shop in. Plus of course there is the internet and the online shopping revolution, yes the internet has changed how people shop but again this is not the sole factor as to why small town Britain has bitten the dust. Some may say that this is just a sign of the times and is indicative of the recession but sadly the death of the small town started long before this current recession took hold.

Even the combination of all of these is not the main reason as to why I weep for the loss of those independent shops. Nope, I put the blame on the town councils who over the last couple of decades have turned most towns into a carbon copy of another and in doing so destroyed small town Britain.

It all started a few years ago when the council allowed the supermarket which was situated in the centre of the town I live to shut shop and relocate to the outskirts of the town centre, allowing them to have bigger premises and so offer a wider range of goods. All well and good except it meant that those who use to go to the supermarket and then onto other shops now don’t bother to venture into town as it’s too far too walk.

The knock on effect of this was that there was less footfall through the main town centre and so businesses started to suffer. Businesses which had been in the town for years had to downsize and shut shop and the same for the market which shrunk in size to less than half of what it use to be.

What did the council do to try and help those small businesses, absolutely nothing, in fact they increased the taxes and launched initiative schemes which pandered to the big businesses and not those who were struggling. They came up with plans to redevelop areas of the town but in doing so acknowledged that these new redeveloped areas would have higher rents and rates. Now how does that help those small businesses?

So walking down my local high street what do I now see? In between the empty premises we are left with coffee shop chains, hairdressers and charity shops. No longer are there those family businesses with their quirky nature which supplied day to day goods because they cannot survive and are no longer supported by the town councils.

Sad as this may sound but unless the town councils realise that what they are doing is destroying our heritage, small town Britain will be a thing of the past.


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    • Andy Webb profile image

      Andy Webb 8 years ago

      @ 2patricias - I agree that the council/ planning office do have to follow national laws, but they also should act in a manner which will ensure fairness to all and protect those businesses which operate in the centre of town. If they continue to allow big businesses to spring up away from the town centre they are in my opinion not taking into consideration the opinions of all parties involved, ie those small businesses which suffer as more people are driven away from the town centres.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      This is an interesting Hub, but I don't think that all the blame lies with Town Councils. Your local planning office is required to follow national laws. If the council tries to turn down an application for planning permission, the applicant has the legal right to appeal and if the local council has not followed national law the cost of the appeal falls on your council, and then you, the local tax payer. So local councils tend to be cautious!