Until quite recently, there has been a relatively unnoticed and largely unwelcome change taking place in our communities. Our small retailers are disappearing.
The Evening Standard says that over seven thousand of London's family or individually owned stores have closed down since 2001 and has launched this campaign to save them. An all-party Parliamentary group published High Street Britain - alarmingly concluding that small retailers may “vanish from Britain’s high streets by 2015”. Councils are being called upon to take action and last May our neighbours in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had an independent commission publish this insightful report.
Mohammed Ashraf and Abdullah Mir run W6 Food & Wine in King Street, Hammersmith. They were pleased to hear of the K&C report. Abdullah tells me that competition from the big retailers is a constant threat. “They want to take over everything he says” and went on to urge “Council’s should be careful not to give planning permission to superstores that end up swallowing up business from hundreds of local small retailers". His brother Mohammad added “That can’t be good for an area. There’s some great little shops in our borough and I’d expect that most would agree that it's tough”. The owners of SISI Hardware & DIY, the Tipsy Toad and many other small retailers have expressed similar concerns to me.
The New Economics Foundation, a leading think tank, also agrees saying “The appearance of Clone Town Britain has been aided by planning and regeneration decisions that have created a retail infrastructure hostile to small, independent businesses”. You can read its conclusions here.
Last week. H&F Councillors of both parties voted in favour of the Conservative Administration’s motion to the Council that read:
“This Council notes the publication of an independent Commission on Retail Conservation set up by Kensington & Chelsea Council and the recent submission to the Council by the Fulham Society of "Renaissance in Fulham". As a result of increasing concern at the disappearance of independent retailers, this Council resolves to study these two reports and further consider ways in which to support shops and the local economy in Hammersmith & Fulham.”
I was concerned that this motion was more than a little short on action points and while agreeing to vote for it, Labour firstly proposed an amendment that read “and agrees to set up a similar commission, involving local small retailers and other key stakeholders”. The Conservatives voted that down with Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) explaining that they wouldn’t support this suggestion as “it was too prescriptive”. Maybe they’ll change their minds.
I think they should; as while I’m sure local government officials and councillors will have something to contribute, I believe that H&F Council needs to listen to those that know. People who have taken the risk to run their own small retail businesses, day-in-day-out, should be at the forefront of steering a way forward for that sector in Hammersmith and Fulham. If they’re not and there’s no effective proposals within the next few months then last week's debate will have been little more than political hot air. And, if this trend of disappearing small shops continues, we'll all lose out.
W6 Food & Wine is open from 8.00am to 11.00pm and is situated at 175 King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 9JD.