‘Did they even visit?’: life on the supposed ‘worst high street’ in Britain
A London property consultancy has named Shields Road, Newcastle, the least vital high street in the UK – but locals say the report is classist, insulting and confuses ‘good’ with ‘rich’
Cue The Guardian visiting that howling wasteland that is the area north of the Marylebone Road and finding out that, actually, they’re just peeps and often nice peeps at that.
Which is, of course, to entirely miss the point of what was said:
On Shields Road in Newcastle, Steve Compton is cutting the hair of a man in his 50s. The atmosphere in Compton’s barber shop is cheerful – and stays cheerful even after one of the customers raises the subject of a recent report by a retail consultancy that labelled Shields Road the “worst high street in Britain”. The “vitality index”, by London-based Harper Dennis Hobbs, claims 19% of the retail units on Shields Road are vacant, twice the national average. “Does it look like one in five shops is empty to you?” asks Compton as he snips. “No chance. You just have to walk along to see that. Did they even visit?” What has really annoyed locals, however, is how the list measures the vitality of a high street. In addition to vacancy rates, the criteria specifically include the proportion of “upmarket” shops, as well as the proportion of pawnbrokers, money lenders and bookmakers. Critics say this conflates the wealth and social class of a neighbourhood with how good or bad it is. The report identifies the city of Cambridge as having the UK’s “best” high streets, with expensive shops that “attract aspirational customers with more money being spent”. Conversely, Byker, the Newcastle ward where Shields Road is located, is described as home to a “borderline poverty group” who take “solace in fast food, gambling and alcohol” and whose “day-to-day survival means that they will be less engaged with the wider world”.
“How very dare they say such things?” says Jill Haley, chief executive of Byker Community Trust, which works to maximise access for local people to employment, training, health and educational opportunities. Haley points to the many awards the local community has won, including the Great Neighbourhood Award in 2018 from the Academy of Urbanism. “What makes this place is the community spirit,” Haley says. “I’ve been here seven years and I can say I’ve never worked in a place that’s been more thriving.”
All of which is entirely irrelevant love.
So, let us do the modicum of research that we might expect from a journalistic enterprise. Who are Harper Dennis Hobbs?
We are an independent practice of real estate professionals advising some of the world’s leading retailers.
Ah, so. The report is to either landlords or tenants of retail properties. And where – whichever you are – would you like to have your property? Where there’s lots of cash available from aspirational buyers? Or where there’s lots of community but bugger all money?
Tough one, eh?
But then the Daily Mash did get the paper right, didn’t it? The Guardian, wrong on everything. All the time.