Save our High Street


The recent news of the closure of one of the last remaining food shops in the High Street (Johnson’s Fruiterers)  confirms the unwelcome transformation that is taking place in many high streets throughout the UK. Market forces and the internet are closing shops everywhere.

Luckily we still have some excellent independent shops such as the greengrocer and butcher in Cinque Ports street and residents will no doubt ensure they thrive. But perhaps the time has come to consider what sort of High Street we want in the future and how can we make it happen.

Despite planning rules to restrict shops being converted to other uses, the outlying retail streets such as Landgate are already being lost to residential conversions. If this continues and the case for retaining shops is not strengthened the Rother planners will find it increasingly difficult to refuse applications to convert shops into residential or offices – even in the High Street.

Market forces have been at work everywhere – particularly in the rural parishes and many shops and pubs have been lost. The loss of these local services forces people into their cars, increases the dominance of supermarkets, and finally erodes the sense of community which makes living here so special for all of us.

It is not all doom and gloom – market forces have been successfully resisted and we have some really good examples locally. Our wonderful cinema, the Kino, and the adjoining community rooms owned by the parish church would have been demolished and replaced with a luxury residential development had not one or two locals – including Mike Eve – taken the bold step to intervene.

There are several local parishes where the village shop has been bought as a result of community action. The new owners have stopped the shops being converted to homes and by charging a reasonable rent the shops have continued to trade and provide invaluable services to their villages.

The world has changed since the market became king in the time of Margaret Thatcher. Even Conservatives are now planning state interventions to correct the excesses of market forces such as the proposed cap on energy prices. Whether we will see the re-nationalisations proposed by the Labour party is another matter, but it is clearly time for some community based interventions to stop the rot on our High Street.


Photo: Christopher Strangeways

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  1. The root cause of the ongoing closure of essential shops such as greengrocers, butchers, bakers etc is now and has always been, the continual rise of rents. Many people living in and around Rye, would be pleased to shop locally. In the last 20 years, there has been a return to buying from small and local shops, so much so that supermarkets have been feeling the pinch, and have slowed down on their expansion programmes. However, this is the age old saga of the greedy landlord putting pressure on small businesses who are struggling to run a business which will serve the community.
    It would also help if more properties in Rye were lived in, and not standing empty waiting for weekenders or holiday renters.

  2. If Mr Strangeways were to ask publicans (and their former customers) why pubs were closing (up to 25 a week, it is claimed), he would discover that it is the result of more, not less, state intervention of the kind he admires.

    Whatever its merits on aesthetic or health grounds, it was the smoking ban that accelerated the decline of so many pubs already weakened by regulation and taxation (see the IEA’s 2014 report) Left to the wicked market, many pubs would have remained smokey – and open as a consequence.

    As for ‘market forces’ well, he may have a point when one gets to the nub of what is killing Rye High St, because the real culprits are property owners and their ever increasing rent demands. Then again, is this the result of genuine ‘market forces’? What sort of market actually operates in Rye? A little digging around might not go amiss here.

    Finally, there is the (not so) small matter of the £27.8 billion annual business rates bill (2015-16) levied by the government and handed out by our sainted local council. That doesn’t help small shops stay open, either.

  3. Sadly Rye has gone from a market town, to a tourist town,over the years, there is very little,unless its banks, or chemists, to attract people from a 6 mile radius to come in the town now,except for the general market on Thursdays, which is the only day the town is thriving.

  4. It seems we have returned to the feudal system where the wealthy strangle the everyday, hard working small business owner, leaving them no choice but to shut down or move out. What surprises me are the wealthy people who are surprised by this!

  5. I agree with J Tolhurst except that the banks are disappearing as well. With no HSBC presence I went to use a cash machine only to find it was out of cash. The man in the queue behind me said he had tried two others and they were out of cash! This poor service is another blow to Rye shops.

    Yes, I agree the market brings people in but where on earth do they park?


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