By Amy Holden
Walking down Brighton streets, you could be forgiven for thinking that its high street was safe, given that it has one of the largest selection of independent shops in the south coast, at around 300. These are one of the crucial elements of Brighton’s character, with the shops creating an eclectic choice for shoppers, alongside the general chains. However, a report from November 2019 showed the opposite, with a -75% growth rate, making Brighton the 12th worse in the UK for the decline of its high street.
The state of the UK’s high street is something that features on the news sporadically, but to those in these sectors, it’s a constant fight, with over 140 000 retail jobs in the UK being lost in 2019. Why these jobs are being lost is due to a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is the increase in online shopping that has occurred. While physical shops are still preferred to online shopping for groceries (with over 50% preferring not to shop online), digital businesses focusing on clothes have seen a great increase, with ‘PrettyLittleThing’ seeing a 107% revenue increase 2019-2020. Furthermore, the focus on public transport in Brighton can be seen as a cause accelerating the decline, as the need for tickets only adds to the preference of many to drive to places such as out-of-town malls, where there are likely to be more shops in a smaller distance.
Given Brighton is home to many students, including both the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton, the disposable income of many visitors may be lower than other demographics, and Brighton’s arguably seasonal tourist sectors only emphasise this. Reports show that 2008-2018 the UK had the weakest growth of all G7 countries after the Financial Crisis, due to shoppers adopting more austere shopping practices. This partnered with the National Living Wage (currently £9.30/hour) means making ends meet is proving to be difficult for many. One of the stark reminders of this issue is the approximately 600 empty business units that litter the streets, which in itself knocks onto wider society. Brighton and Hove City Council said they expect to lose £2.9 million income up to March 2020, with the Local Government Association saying the business rates were important income sources. Many also blame these rates for said closures, highlighting the potential conflicts that can arise as a result. The increased costs have been highlighted, along with decreased central government funding, as reasons for the expected £15 million ‘budget gap’ that the council will supposedly face in the 2020/2021 financial year.
One of the central shops of the Lanes, ‘Choccywoccydoodah’ shut down in 2019, with one of the reasons cited being financial. With rents of almost £50 000 a year, the shops in Brighton rely on customers spending. It was also suggested that, despite often having queues, people moreso took photos and looked at the shop, which doesn’t help pay the rent. Brighton MP Caroline Lucas has urged the Government to protect independent shops, but as more shut, the image of Brighton and its high street is likely to continue evolving.
However, contrary to the statistics regarding their decline, in 2018 Brighton was ranked the 7th healthiest high street in the UK, with points added for services such as leisure centres, coffee shops and bars to name a few; points were deducted for services such as empty shops, betting shops and fast food. This report reemphasises the importance of the high street for wider society, as opposed to solely those directly in the sector; highlighting the importance of helping to save it, especially in areas such as Brighton, where the high street of independent shops is central to its character.
While there is no denying that as students our budgets are not endless, and online shopping is sometimes more convenient however, given the impacts it is clear that something should be done. While chain stores also have services to offer on high streets, the eclectic image given by independent stores, and the ability to have unique items is something Brighton is known for and, unless something is done so (by both individuals and governments), it could be a thing of the past.
Image credit: David Dixon