New attitudes needed to city centre trade

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

If I was going to open a shop, I would start out by doing some pretty intensive market research. I would want to know what people want. I would want to know whether there was space in the market for my business.

Most importantly, I would want to know how people were going travel to my shop and judge if the footfall would be large enough to make my enterprise succeed.

Pretty basic stuff. But it is these sorts of basics, on a collective basis, that our cities must consider.

This last week we have heard dire news of a 9% drop in footfall in shopping areas in Scotland, including city centres. Obviously the recession has played its part in this drop, but that is not the whole story. This is the most dramatic sign of something I have long been fearing, but expecting.

Our city centres are losing their attraction. And, it seems clear to me, that transport is one of the main reasons.


The market research is incontrovertible. The car remains the most popular form of transport for most families by a big margin. You may not like that, but it is fact.

On that basis, it would be foolish to put obstacles in the way of car users, without first putting in place a suitably attractive alternative means of transport, wouldn’t it?

But, that is what our councils have done. Road capacity has been strangled by under-utilised bus lanes. Car parking has been deliberately restricted. Parking charges have been escalated and extended.

The reason that the footfall of city centres has held up until now is that – for many people – internet shopping is a new phenomenon. They simply had to put up with the misery of traffic queues and limited parking.

As an early adopter of internet shopping, I admit (with sadness), that we have long turned our backs on the city centre. Even though we live only 12 miles from the centre of Aberdeen, it is now a major excursion to battle our way into town and start the hunt for an elusive parking place. On one notable occasion, we gave up and headed home empty-handed.

At the end of the day the computer and mouse is much more convenient and when we do crave a ‘live’ retail experience, there are plenty of towns and out-of-town retail centres that will give us our fix, without the hassle.

It is time for our politicians to change their thinking to save our city centre shopping.

City centre shopping has to be viewed as an attraction and it has to be made more attractive (more convenient and more welcoming). Otherwise the future for famous shopping streets like Union Street, is looking decidedly bleak.
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