Justin King has waded into the debate over the future of the British high street, blaming traditional retailers for failing to adapt to the changing needs of society.

Delivering the annual City Food Lecture at the Guildhall in London on Wednesday, the Sainsbury’s boss will deny that supermarkets are to blame for the decline of traditional high streets.

“Where high streets are in trouble it is usually because they are not providing what the local population wants,” he will say.

“Supermarkets have reflected society and changes in society. Many shoppers do not have the time to potter between the butcher, the baker and grocer.”

King will argue that empty shops could be converted into residential space or classrooms.

“We must be brave enough to shrink the high street and allow empty shops to be converted for other uses, such as residential, where there is over-capacity.”

James Lowman of the Association of Convenience Stores rejected King’s criticism of small retailers.

“Any suggestion high streets are either not wanted by customers or are not a key part of the future of our retail sector is completely out of touch with our future consumer and community needs,” Lowman said.

Should the high street be allowed to die? Vote in this week’s poll on thegrocer.co.uk.