The town centre is approaching crisis. (Some will claim it hit crisis some time ago, a point I am not going to dispute.) High streets up and down the land are suffering, yet some buck the trend. Even within the borough there is example of a high street that remains buoyant – look at Leigh-on-Sea.
The Tory administration took a closed shop approach to the idea of a High Street summit; I, and my colleagues, decided this was entirely the wrong approach. If nothing else, how can the people who have overseen its decline be best placed to reverse this?
There are many reasons for the current state of our town centre. It is not all down to the rise of internet shopping, or indeed those current scapegoats – the homeless.
What struck me is that we need fresh ideas and must engage with and listen to our residents. The ‘we-know-best’ attitude of the Tories is not only arrogant, it clearly flies in defiance of reality.
The Tories do not listen. Their great solution is to cajole and bully the homeless to move from the relative safety of shop doors, which solves nothing, merely moving the problem. When will they understand that failure to properly address the failures of austerity and the paucity of social housing has left the fifth richest nation on Earth with increasing numbers sleeping rough.
Fortunately Labour did take a cross-party approach to its people’s summit, and the more than seventy residents have gave up a Wednesday evening to air their views about their community were listened to politely. Labour (and I am sure the Liberal Democrats and the Independent Group) will be looking at their notes from this meeting and will be trying to effect real and positive change.
In the meantime the Tories will be re-arranging the deck-chairs as their ship heads towards an ice-berg. Not listening is a very bad idea.