What is new future of high streets?
Stephen Taylor, Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum
- Credit: Polly Hancock
What will be the longer-term impact of the pandemic on Hampstead’s high streets?
We have already seen some effects, including the closure of shops and restaurants. But will changing work patterns and shopping methods bring more fundamental changes?
High streets constantly evolve. The varied small shops of my childhood were largely supplanted by chain outlets. Then, malls and superstores drew trade away. And more recently, the internet allowed the development of online shopping. This trend was clear well before the pandemic. Traffic planners had noted, against a background of steady decline in London motor traffic, a sharp uptick in light-van journeys.
The pandemic accelerated change. Many will regret the disappearance of local shops like Zana and of outlets such as Gap, Jigsaw, Carluccio and Pizza Express.
However, new shops and restaurants have also emerged. Meanwhile, our residential streets are full of delivery vans and motorbikes. Many of us who were not versed in online shopping have become so. And we have learned to shun crowds. To buy bread at our bakery, I wait on the street, mask up, order and pay through a perspex screen, and leave briskly.
With the arrival of Covid vaccines, we can hope for a return to normal life. But what will normal look like? It is possible, but only possible, that we will simply go back to the old ways of doing things. But it seems equally likely that a significant proportion of residents may decide that the shift to home working should continue. Or employers may decide for them: many companies have reduced their office space.
If people still work at home, they may need different products and services from retail centres – different ways, for example, of maintaining human contact, whether with colleagues or others. They may also feel less desire to live in cities. Estate agents report inquiries doubled in 2020 for homes outside London.
These are just some of the potential implications. The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum has started a study group to look at possible futures for our high streets. Share your thoughts with us: email@example.com
- Stephen Taylor is chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum (hampsteadforum.org).