When you’re out shopping, you might think it’s easy to define a high street and where it starts and ends. But is it that simple? Can a town have more than one high street? Is the road called High Street in your town still the primary shopping area? Or has the purpose of the road shifted over time?
We’ve been working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to define and analyse Britain’s high streets. Together, we have been working out how many high streets there are in Great Britain, what types of properties and businesses are on high streets, as well how the number of businesses and employment has changed in recent years.
By Iain Goodwin and Kat Harrington
During the last year, OS has been working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to improve our joint understanding of high streets. Since the Government’s £675 million Future High Streets Fund budget announcement, our collaborative government project has become increasingly more significant.
The importance of high streets has also been acknowledged by Public Health England through their Healthy High Streets research, published at the beginning of 2018, highlights how a healthy high street provides “Accessible, safe, communal spaces foster social interaction and strong local economies and can be used to create healthier, safer and more cohesive local communities”. It also drew the conclusion that the “unequal distribution of healthy and unhealthy high streets is likely to contribute to health inequalities”.
This is a view echoed by retailer, Sir John Timpson, who speaking last December to the BBC about high streets said: “It’s not just about shopping. It’s about communities and creating a hub for entertainment, medical facilities, housing.”
So how can OS help?
We asked ourselves some questions. Where does a high street start and end? What is their geography, and how do they compare? High streets up and down the country have no obvious physical boundaries, and not knowing the exact geography of our high streets makes it difficult to identify and analyse them.