Until this week, I little imagined that shutters would be an interesting subject for this column. I was wrong. Heightened by last week’s riots, shutters are a hot topic of debate among retailers, local councils and the government.
Councils hate them. The government isn’t keen, either. A shuttered high street looks soulless. One council even suggests, in its guidance, that their use is a danger to women.
But even though some were patently not up to the job in last week’s riots as yobs prised them open retailers love them, and you can understand why. With the police too terrified to show force, shops are incredibly vulnerable to vandalism and theft. And even more incredible is that some councils insist shutters can only be installed inside the shop windows!
This week there were signs of a softening in the government’s position, as the DCLG chief planner, Steve Quartermain, wrote to local councils urging them to speed through planning applications on rebuilding work and new security shutters.
How this will be squared with the next sentence in the letter “ensuring that a balance is struck between security and protecting the look and character of our high streets” is a topic that will delight box-ticking aesthetes in many a planning department. But if I had any money, I would invest it in a beautiful shutter business. One local store has shown it can be done. Alternatively, why not get local artists to beautify shutters in bi-annual council or retail-sponsored art competitions? (Are you listening Mary Portas?)
Shutters are no longer an optional extra. For many they will be insisted upon by insurers. And what’s galling is that - like Facewatch, another crime-prevention development covered in this week’s issue - this will only add to the costs on retailers as, once again, the centre of gravity swings from what was once the job of the bobby towards the shopkeeper.