Ah! Now here’s a prickly one for you, no matter where you live, be it planning for a road, an extension to your house, an airport or even the high street, it is bound to be contentious and fraught with problems at some point during the proceedings. Prepare yourself beforehand because at no point in your life, whether you are planning a day trip or another M25, will you ever satisfy everyone affected by your plan.

For example, if you are the person that grants permission for particular shops or restaurants to open on a particular high street you need to kit yourself out like the goal keeper on an ice hockey team. Take for example the recent happenings in one of our own high streets, Strood, we had three bakers within an easy walk of any of the car parks, we then had a new bakery open and suddenly we only have two. Now I am not about to accuse the new bakery (national brand) of messing it up for the two that have closed and I am not about to blame the local council either. I am merely suggesting that it is an unfortunate thing to happen. It may be that the other two bakeries were already considering closing, they may have retired and preferred not to sell the business. Coincidence is the word I would use, very poor planning on the other hand was the term used in a recent email to our office, the gentleman concerned being completely sure that national chains were entirely to blame for the demise of local family run businesses.

Our high streets struggle enough these days, we lack the choice we once had of butchers, bakers and the like and in many towns the size of Strood or Rochester there would have been a few of each, attracting their own clients. Shops like these are what made our high streets the focal points of our communities, people lived above their place of work or close to it and this engendered and fostered a civic pride, a respect for the area and this often appears to be lost in our high streets these days as all you can see after hours is the different coloured shutters.

If our councillors and councils as a whole do not give a little more thought to our high streets and what goes on in them they will remain, to a degree, floundering and a place not to go after dark. We need to be able to park easily and at reasonable cost, we need to be able to shop and socialise at the same time and we need to be able to buy things we need from retailers that know and understand the products they are selling. Having recently been at the fish counter of a local supermarket asking where the jars of anchovies could be found and being told “I don’t know, I’m sorry but I only work on the fish counter.” I do have some sympathy with the writer of the email and if the effect of the new national chain bakery was to cause the closure of the other two then that is pretty sad for Strood.

The out of town shopping centres or industrial estates where the national brands gather are all well and good and they indeed play a vital role. Our high streets are even more important, when you go overseas in many countries you still find a high street with a selection of shops and indeed supermarkets but they seem to be at one with the rest of the high street. Our fascination and addiction to the huge supermarket is slowly strangling our high streets, they become almost a monoculture where the estate agent or financial houses are the mainstay. Of course it is great to have both of these but somehow we have to include all the other things as well to ensure that we retain a sense of community. The mini versions of the big stores I think could be encouraged and the huge versions kept well away from the high street, maybe then they could assist breathing new life into the very thing they have begun to suffocate.

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