For years small retailers have blamed the big-box, out-of-town shopping centres and a light touch planning system for what we all recognise these days as the death of the high street.
This has invariably led to calls for a curb on out of town developments. Naturally enough, these calls were always rejected by the big retailers who said they were simply offering choice.
It’s interesting therefore to see today’s figures from the BRC that show consumers drifting away from out of town retail outlets at a higher rate (1.9%) than high street stores (1.6%) for the last quarter.
There is no doubt that many of the UK’s high streets are really struggling in terms of falling sales and the growing spectre of vacant stores – and that was before the recent rioting and looting.
But what the BRC figures show is how the wider economic picture impacts on retail trends rather than the rather simplistic argument that out of town developments act as some kind of magnet for shoppers rendering the nearest town centre a ghost town.
High fuel prices are a clear deterrent for shoppers when faced with the alternative of walking to a local store. Asda blamed this for sluggish sales growth, in its results last week.
And there is a growing band of shoppers that are looking to keep a closer handle on their household budgets by doing more smaller shops.
Of course these factors could change – for example if the Libyan situation stabilises oil prices may also start to fall and shoppers might even see a difference at the pumps and thus not be so reticent about jumping back into their cars.
Either way the big retailers and the supermarkets in particular seem to see the high street as the next big area for growth – so perhaps its demise may have been exaggerated.
Those calling for a moratorium on out of town supermarket development didn’t get exactly what they wanted in terms of legislation although most recent planning announcements continue to champion a town centre first policy.
Worryingly for them perhaps is that their arguments may now be moot and they will now have to face a straight fight for business in those town centres as Asda and Morrisons join Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the first for space in the smaller store sector.