Clone Town Britain 2010

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41 per cent of UK towns are clone towns and a further 23 per cent are on the verge of becoming clone towns, according to the widest ever Clone Town survey results released today by leading independent think-tank nef (new economics foundation).

Only 36 per cent of the high streets surveyed retain their distinctive character with more than two thirds of their shops being independents. The nef report, Re-imagining the High Street: Escape from Clone Town Britain, also brands the multiple chain outlets as “fair weather friends” who have either abandoned the high streets entirely or given up so-called secondary locations.

The report says that overall trend towards “Clone Town Britain”, continues, despite widespread publicity about the loss of local identity following the 2005 Clone Town report.

• 41 per cent of the towns surveyed were “clone towns” (more than half the stores were chains); 23 per cent are on the verge of becoming clone towns (border towns); and 36 per cent were “home towns” (more than 2/3rds of shops are independents).

• Cambridge is the UK’s most cloned town, managing only 11.6 on the diversity scale (out of a possible 100). Only nine varieties of shops are found on the main high street.

• Richmond has the most cloned high street of London’s “villages”, with only five independent shops found down its length.

• Whitstable, Kent is the best performing “home town”, according to the survey, scoring an impressive 92.1. on the diversity scale.

• Nine of the 13 west London village high streets surveyed registered as “clone towns”.

Paul Squires, the co-author of the report said: “The towns most dependent on the big chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable to the economic crisis. The government’s “Big Society” idea cannot be built on these fractured local economies, represented so clearly by the empty shop fronts along our high streets.”

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Paul continued; “we found many towns that are thriving with initiatives to retain local diversity. The local currency schemes in Lewes and Brixton, for example; community buy-outs of post offices and pubs from Yorkshire to Cornwall; and loyalty cards for shopping at independent retailers from London to Penzance.”

Elizabeth Cox, co-author of the report added: “We need to completely re-evaluate what we use our high streets for now that the age of mass retail is juddering to a halt. Our high streets could become places where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities including working, sharing, exchanging, playing and learning new skills. As the hub of our communities, the high street could become the place where we begin to build a more sustainable world.”

nef is calling for action from:

• Individuals: “Use them, or lose them”. Residents should put their money where their mouth is and seek out independents and locally sourced products.

• Local government: Establish High Street Transition Hubs in key vacant shops to help develop local economies. These could range from local currency development (like Brixton £) to local food distribution and tool share/exchange schemes. They would not be general “community centres”.

• Central government: Give local authorities powers to offer discretionary business rate relief for new and established independent enterprises to move onto the high street and commit to reducing their carbon footprint.

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