Damian wrote a short article this week for the Herald group of papers about high street trading to coincide with Small Business Saturday:
"We’re all aware of the changing shape of our town centres, with the loss of some long established retail brands from our high streets, struggling to compete with the growth of online shopping. And with e-commerce predicted to account for around 40 per cent of all UK retail sales by 2030, this shift is set to continue. "
But it is also true that bricks and mortar retailing will always have a place on the high street, particularly when customer service and experience is at the heart of the offer. Thriving town centres are likely to have a greater mix of leisure, entertainment, education and arts, with residential housing also becoming a key part of regeneration.
And this will be particularly evident in the new town centre development in Whitehill & Bordon, designed around a range of facilities and services to encourage footfall and foster community life.
I was delighted to see Alton short-listed in the recent Great British High Street Awards, and although Crickhowell was selected as the eventual winner, there was clear recognition for the good work underway locally to protect the vibrancy of the town centre.
And this is where local communities are such a significant driving force, with local councils, community groups and hundreds of volunteers hosting events that bring people into the centre of towns and villages. This is undoubtedly true of East Hampshire, with outstanding initiatives happening in Petersfield, Alton, Liss, Liphook, Whitehill & Bordon and many smaller communities as well.
This weekend’s Yuletide Festival in Alton is one such example, coinciding as it does this year with Small Business Saturday. This is a great way to show support for local businesses and I’m looking forward to visiting a few who are finding new ways to meet the challenges of high street trading.
But central government also has an important role to play and announcements made in the recent Budget will bring more than £1.5 billion worth of support for the high street, including the easing of small businesses' rates, and the Future High Streets Fund.
The Government has also announced the launch of the Open Doors project, inviting landlords to take part in a pilot scheme to help match empty properties with community groups looking for space.
So, there is plenty to be optimistic about and I’m sure our high streets will remain the heart of community life for many generations to come.
And we can all play our part when we shop local."