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Evening Standard: " Politicians' fears for high streets are just hollow words"

"As long as planners back shopping malls, small retailers and their neighbourhoods will inevitably get left behind"

Link to Evening Standard

"I can recall Hendon Central in north London in what we might call its golden days. It was alive with cinema, food shops, boutiques, coffee bars, hardware stores and local services clustered round the Tube station. Hendon was a classic suburban village hub.

"I went last week and was appalled. An economic neutron bomb appeared to have hit the place, sucking the life from it. Premises were locked or given over to cut-price money lenders, pawnbrokers, charity shops, tattoo parlours and junk food. Even the discount stores seemed to have fled. It might have been depressed east London. Yet this place was in the heart of a prosperous London suburb. What had happened?

"The answer is Brent Cross and the decline of the high street. The story is the same across town, especially where hypermarkets and malls have arrived. You can see it around Shepherd’s Bush Green, outside the new Westfield in Stratford or in shopping areas near Bluewater. These high streets are like the hovels that once cowered under the walls of medieval fortresses, eking a living from whatever business is tossed at them over the battlements. It is the Norman conquest all over again.

"... Cities are joined-up places. Those who planned the expansion of Brent Cross 'planned' the collapse of Hendon Central. Decisions have outcomes. Portas drew attention to the minutiae of change of use, the release of upper floors, the size of units, the upgrading of street furniture. This is not just for planning nerds. Look at a well-considered French shopping street and see the difference. French growth has not suffered [because of its] interventionist planning, that is light years ahead of Britain’s.

"I cannot believe that each London borough would be a better place if, as appears to be “policy”, shopping is concentrated on one giant enclosed mall, any more than if it had one giant school, one housing estate, one library or one office block. A London of gated and guarded residential towers, their occupants racing through 'tumble-weed' streets to gated malls, may make someone money in the short run. It may suit Texas or Shanghai. It is not my London, and I cannot believe it would be a settled, peaceful city, nor ultimately a prosperous one."

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