A very silly article has appeared on the BBC news website this morning, the thrust of which is that the decline of the high street – in particular, one high street in north Wales – is apparently due to pedestrianisation.
Welsh councils are being asked to look again at pedestrian zones amid concern they are deterring shoppers. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says towns need to find new ways to attract people. They should make them easier to get to and easier for car drivers to navigate around, it says.
RICS members are meeting this week to discuss what should be done to make town centres more accessible and get more people spending there. One town the group says could benefit from a review of pedestrianisation is Colwyn Bay.
The BBC have spoken to a greengrocer on Station Road in Colywn Bay, one of the main shopping streets, who is attributing the reason for shutting down to… pedestrianisation.
“Pedestrianisation has been a big nail in the coffin,” he explained. “Fruit and veg is heavy. People don’t want to be carrying bags of veg to the nearest car park. When cars could come down the street, people just used to pop in. We’ve really campaigned against pedestrianisation the whole time. But now it’s too late. It’s terribly sad. I’ve been here all my life, and my father, grandfather and great grandfather before me.”
I don’t suppose you can really blame this grocer for failing to discern the real reasons why he is going out of business. Pedestrianisation of the street seems to have coincided with a decline in footfall, and he has formed causation out of the correlation, without really thinking about why footfall on streets in Colwyn Bay might have been declining – most likely a rise in out of town retail, the convenience offered by supermarkets, and online shopping.
What’s extraordinary is that Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors – who really should know better – are peddling exactly the same nonsense.
Richard Baddeley, a surveyor in Conwy county and a member of RICS in north Wales, said towns like Colwyn Bay, Holyhead, Rhyl and Holywell have all had pedestrianised areas for some time, but now need to think of new ways to get people spending.
“Shopping has changed. High streets have changed. There are now out-of-town shopping centres – they’re a draw for people,” he said. “One out-of-town shopping centre near north Wales – Cheshire Oaks in Ellesmere Port – has increased its turnover by 22% this year. The key issue is accessibility. Small and medium-sized towns need to think about how they attract cars in the future with improved parking and making the shops more accessible. It will not put the clock back, but improved accessibility may attract new independent retailers.”
But Station Road in Colwyn Bay is accessible by car. The large pale stripe on the map below (Station Road) is clearly very close to two car parks, to the east and north. Consequently it’s bizarre to argue that a lack of car access to the street itself is to blame here, when you can get a car to within such a short distance.
There is, naturally, plentiful parking here, and you can park close to your desired shop.
But unless you are incredibly lazy, and go back to your car and drive it close to another shop you want to visit, you will have to walk around in a pedestrianised environment once you have arrived.
Therefore it simply cannot be the case that ‘pedestrianisation’ is a deterrent to shopping, because shopping centres like this one offer large pedestrianised areas, which are pleasant places to shop in. That is why they get implemented. Out of town retail does not allow you to park directly outside every single shop; for one thing, it would be absolute chaos, and for another, it’s not what people want, or what the managers of these centres want. They’re not stupid.
There is no connection between pedestrianisation and a drop in footfall in shops; quite the opposite. There are many substantive reasons why the high street is declining, but the Royal College of Chartered Surveyors seem to have ignored all of them, and focused on a bogus one. They should be ashamed of themselves.