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How to make our high streets thrive again: Telegraph readers have their say

Naomi Southwell
How can we make our high streets thrive again?  - COPYRIGHT JAY WILLIAMS

High streets up and down the country are under attack. From the rise of online shopping driving the decline of footfall, to the mounting pressures of business rates, tax, and the Living Wage, Britain's retailers are struggling to turn a profit.

Marks & Spencer, Poundworld, Carluccio’s, Homebase, Mothercare and Carphone Warehouse are among the companies that have announced closures so far this year.

For some shoppers, the ease and convenience of online shopping, with its infinite choice and next-day delivery, will always trump shopping on the high street. But for others, nothing beats browsing in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Andy Street - Conservative mayor of the West Midlands and former managing director of John Lewis - is one such champion of the high street. He put forward his vision for thriving town centres in a column for the Telegraph.

Our readers were quick to join the debate, reflecting on the state of their local high streets and suggesting their own solutions. Read on for our readers’ take on how to make our high streets thrive again.

Reduce the cost of parking

An issue that many readers felt Mr Street failed to address was the cost of parking. People took to the comments section to lament the "eye-watering" price of parking that they felt contributed to the declining footfall in their town centres.

'So, no mention of reducing the eye-watering price of parking then?'

@B Carter:

"So, no mention of reducing the eye-watering price of parking, then?

"Why should I pay an extortionate tax on visiting a shop in Reading, when within a few clicks can find the same thing on Amazon delivered the same or next day for free?"

'One of the main reasons for the decline of the high street is the lack of parking' 

@K Jen:

"One of the main reasons for the decline of the high street is the lack of parking, forced on us by local councillors. Instead of taking that into consideration, councillors and mayors come up with more pedestrianisation."  

'Stop charging people to park their car' 

@Camlock Trelawney:

"If you want to save the high street reduce rates and taxes, so that avoiding them becomes pointless, and stop charging people to park their car."

Tax online retailers

Perhaps the most controversial suggestion made by Mr Street was his call for higher business rates and taxes for online retailers - including Amazon.

A number of our readers agreed with Mr Street’s comment that increasing business rates for online retailers would level the playing field. However, many of them disagreed and argued that a tax on successful online retailers was a punitive measure that would stifle business more generally.

Higher taxes for online retailers have been proposed to relieve the pressures of business rates on high street retailers Credit: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP Getty Images 

'If anything, the business rates structure should be totally overhauled'

@Christopher Holland:

"Instead of raising taxes on Amazon, try reducing them on everyone else. As usual, whatever the problem, it is simply yet another excuse to tax and regulate. Really, why are you surprised that business is walking out the door when this is your policy.

"Amazon is one of the great success stories of our era. I use it all the time. More power to Amazon, and all the other online businesses.

"If anything, the business rates structure should be totally overhauled."

'Create a level playing field by using an alternative form of tax for goods ordered online'

@PJW Holland:

"Create a level playing field by using an alternative form of tax for goods ordered online and the problem will cure itself. That means the abolition of Business Rates and their replacement with a supplement on VAT.

"This would also have the effect of remedying the imbalance between town and city centre shops and out of town ones. Most towns and cities, now, are one sprawling mass of retail. That has had a more devastating effect than online shopping and is equally as harmful. It puts retail out of reach to anyone who is not able to use a car.

"Home delivery is a major cause of pollution. It is inefficient and it is vastly more expensive than delivering via retail outlets. So far the public seem not to have realised how expensive it is. However, a tax on home deliveries is long overdue."

'Amazon shouldn't be penalised for having a centralised online model that doesn't require shops'

@Nicholas Duckett:

"Amazon should pay its fair share of corporation tax on its UK sales, that’s a no brainer for the government. Business rates are a different matter. They are probably too high but, in that instance, Amazon shouldn’t be penalised for having a centralised online model that doesn’t require shops."

The high street is over, online is the way forward

The question of whether a thriving high street is something we should strive for at all was also raised by our readers. Many highlighted the ease of online shopping in comparison to shopping on the high street. The high street's decline, they argued, simply reflects consumer demand for an efficient shopping experience.  

'High streets are never coming back' 

@Freddys Cat:

"High streets are never coming back as people are not going to give up the luxury of doing most of their shopping online, that era is dead."

'High streets are dead men walking' 

@Marcus Aurelius:

"High Streets are dead men walking.

"Our local council in Buckinghamshire where I grew up and where my parents still live taxed shopping there out of existence by charging insane levels of money for parking. My mother is only able to shop there now because she has a disabled parking badge.

"My house in New Zealand is in a small village which has a butcher, general store, cafes, restaurants, agricultural supplies shops and a library and guess what - it's really busy (by New Zealand standards anyway!). And parking costs...nothing at all. Anywhere in the village. Totally free.

"Against that, you can order anything you want, from anywhere in the world, and it arrives at your door. So...pay to park, slog through the rain etc or...not."

'Except for the rare occasions when I need something that day, it's Amazon all the way for me' 

@Paul Bradshaw:

"I find brick and mortar stores incredibly annoying these days. It’s hard to find stuff, things are out of stock, there’s limited selection, there are no reviews so I have no idea if something is any good, there are queues to pay, and then I have to come back again and wait in an even longer queue if I want to return anything. Except for the rare occasions when I need something that same day, it’s Amazon all the way for me."

There’s still value in our high streets

In spite of the purported advantages of shopping online versus shopping in store, some of our readers were keen to defend the high street. Many agreed with Mr Street that high streets could become the focal point of communities up and down the country - if given the chance.

'There is room for small businesses in town centres to flourish'

@Gerard Nath:

"Town centres should now become the focus for local communities. A place where people can get out and meet, eat, have a good social time. Lots of small specialist shops and businesses, small cinemas, bowling alleys, restaurants, etc. Times have changed.

"Online retail is the future for main essentials, but there is room for small businesses in town centres to flourish. The rents need to fall though too. Rents are too high in many town centres."

'If life becomes too efficient, it becomes cold and meaningless' 

@John Sparks:

"If life becomes too efficient, it becomes cold and meaningless. Doing nothing just creates stagnancy and the UK is already pretty stagnant."

Do you agree with our readers? How would you make our high streets thrive again? Or do you even think they should? Let us know in the comments section below. To join the conversation simply log in to your Telegraph account or register for free here.