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Closures raise question over health of local high street areas

In a column in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, Alex Nicoll, Forum chair, wrote about the retail going and comings in Hampstead’s high street areas.

Here is the text of his article:

For the past couple of years, I have been buying sourdough loaves at Bread Ahead. Finding last week that the Hampstead branch had closed, and looking at other empty sites along the High Street, I wondered whether we were witnessing a second wave’ of retail closures — the first having coincided with the Covid lockdown.

About a dozen businesses have closed in the past year, including HSBC, Nationwide, Hobbs, L’Occitane and Le Pain Quotidien. And now the antiques emporium has closed as well, eliminating a colourful part of the retail scene.

Seeing businesses disappear, it is natural to ask whether our high street areas are in decline. The existence of long-empty sites, such as the former NatWest and Lloyds banks, adds to this impression, especially when there are several close together.

Overall, however, the evidence shows that our local retail economy is not in danger of collapse. Since last March, a larger number of businesses have arrived than those that closed, including five new restaurants, two clothes shops and an auctioneer.

In the previous two years from the March 2020 lockdown, just over 30 businesses closed in Hampstead. But in the same period, almost the same number arrived, including Sainsbury’s and Planet Organic as well as bread-and-coffee outlets and a wide range of others.

Of course, this does not mean that all businesses are flourishing. High rents, soaring costs and the squeeze on customers’ wallets make for challenging times.

However, the figures do not suggest that the long-term health of our retail centres is in danger. Some cafes have closed, but we are lucky to have a choice of many excellent places. The police station has art exhibitions pending its expected conversion into offices. Other long-empty sites have found tenants. There does seem to be a process of renewal.

We cannot take this for granted. The Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan seeks a flourishing local economy and a healthy retail mix’. Planning policies can only play a limited part. But part of the purpose of the Plan is for residents to shape a vision of the future which can be influential.

We are refreshing the Neighbourhood Plan. We will hold a public meeting on Tuesday 31 January, at 7pm at the Hampstead Community Centre, 78 Hampstead High Street. Please do come and give your views. Details are at www.hampsteadforum.org.

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