High streets are at the heart of our communities

Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, on the importance of reviving our high streets

Catherine West has represented Hornsey and Wood Green since 2015 (credit Ali Haydar Yesilyurt)

Even before the pandemic, our high streets were changing with more people shopping online and big department stores from BHS to M&S closing their doors. The pandemic undeniably accelerated this change, and as traders across Haringey emerged from locked down shops and deserted streets, they faced a triple whammy of soaring business rates, energy bills and fewer customers.  

In the two years since the first lockdown, we’ve lost 9,300 retail outlets nationwide and this year alone over 13,000 retail jobs.   

It’s why I pushed for a parliamentary debate, so I could tell the minister first-hand the issues that traders from Wood Green to Stroud Green, Muswell Hill to Crouch End have raised with me and call for more support for our brilliant local businesses.

Our high streets matter. They’re not just a place to shop; they’re at the heart of our communities. The pandemic taught us many painful lessons about what we value, one of which is how bereft our communities become when our town centres are no longer open.

When I asked traders for their concerns, top of the pile was business rates. One Stroud Green small business owner told me high street retailers already face higher overheads than their online competitors, but unfair business rates mean they feel actively penalised for placing themselves in the heart of the community. How can that be fair? A Labour government would scrap the failing system and even the balance between shop fronts and online giants.

Second among their concerns was soaring energy costs, a particular issue for high-energy food businesses or hairdressers. The chair of Crouch End Traders who runs a local bakery described it as the “perfect storm” – soaring costs mean prices must go up but struggling customers can’t pay more. Government support to date has been short-term and failed to provide businesses with the assurance they need, and the government is failing to help businesses cut bills. One trader told me how much they’d welcome grants for solar panels saying, “a lot of us want to be greener but can’t afford the initial outlay”.

Traders also spoke of the wider problems affecting the high street, like the imminent closure of the post office in WH Smiths, Wood Green. I’ve long campaigned against bank and post office closures as they’re terrible for customers and for small businesses who can’t safely deposit cash locally and for our high streets. When banks close, they all too often take their free ATMs with them, and we now have the ridiculous situation of 24% of ATMs charging a fee to access your own money. 

Defending our high streets isn’t about rejecting change. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Mary, the founder of The RecordShop, in Wood Green Mall. Mary set it up to help young people in Haringey and beyond gain music skills and experience and it hosts open-mic nights, events and markets. Her vision for The RecordShop, one that brings arts and culture to the heart of a town centre, shows us that there is room for a renewed relationship with our high streets with the right support.  

I hope the minister was listening to the voices of traders and customers across Hornsey and Wood Green. If our high streets are going to thrive over the difficult year ahead – they need more backing.

If you are a Hornsey and Wood Green constituent you can contact Catherine West MP:
020 7219 6141
Email [email protected]

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