The High Street is changing use, that much is obvious. The rise of the internet, of online shopping, means that we’ve a certain surplus of retail space in the country. It’s not a coincidence that, as we’ve pointed out before, some 15% or so of consumer spending is now online, some 15% of retail space in the country is empty.
Such change is rarely pretty nor enjoyable close up but change is indeed a defining feature of a well functioning economy. For we do, as technology changes and enriches us, change our behaviour to partake of those new riches. That doesn’t justify spending our wealth upon the doomed, as is being suggested here:
Britain’s high streets will receive a £675 million cash injection under Government plans to turn empty shops into tea rooms, community centres and new homes.
As of today, local authorities will be able to apply for grants from the Future High Streets Fund, with £55 million set aside for the restoration of historic buildings at risk of falling into disrepair.
The fund is the latest in a series of policy announcements announced by ministers recent months to reverse the decline of the country’s high streets, which have been decimated by the rise of online retailers and ecommerce.
With thousands of retail units falling vacant this year, calls for Government intervention have grown as major retailers including Debenhams and House of Fraser announced plans to shut dozen of stores due to dwindling profits and footfall.
This is the Planner’s Fallacy written out for us again. Those who would design our lives and urban spaces didn’t see that online shopping coming. They were entirely blind to the possibility and the effects. We just went ahead and did it through our voluntary interactions. They’re equally blind and ignorant as to what what we’d like to use those urban centres for in the future. The reason being that we’ve not a scoobie either and we’ll be the people doing the using through our voluntary interactions.
For what should be done with town centres? Dunno. We dunno, you dunno and the planners are in an entirely dunno clueless state. So, how can any planning be done? Money allocation to what we don’t know what to do about is wasted, entirely so.
There is a system we can use, of course there is - the market. Free up all the rules and regulations about what may be done. Change of use, all that sort of stuff, planning regs, requirements to show public benefit and so on. Just allow our own voluntary interactions again to work through the problem. As Hayek pointed out, it’s the only system we’ve got that actually works.
For the Great Truth is that what happens to High Streets and urban centres is emergent from what we decide we’’d like to do with them in the absence of quite so many shops. So, better let us get on with it so we can find out what we would like to use them for.
And, err, stop spending money we don’t have on what we dunno about.