It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Liz Twist on securing this debate about a topic that is vital to the survival of our high streets, as evidenced again by the number of Members present. I say “again” because this is not the first time we have gathered to discuss the causes of town centre decline and what we should do about it. Indeed, I took part in a debate on urban regeneration shortly after being elected to this place four years ago.
Very little has changed since then. In fact, things have probably got worse. In 2018, nearly 85,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK as businesses continued to go bust. In the past 18 months alone, the following big chains have gone into administration: Greenwoods; HMV; Berketex; Crawshaw; Evans Cycles; American Golf; Orla Kiely; Poundworld; House of Fraser; Gaucho; Warren Evans; East; Carpetright; Toys R Us; Maplin; Mothercare; Homebase, and L. K. Bennett. Many household names; many long-standing companies. It is a crisis.
The British Retail Consortium’s monthly footfall tracker showed that store visits hit a six-year low in May this year, with declines experienced in every region and across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres. According to a new report, online shopping will account for more than 50% of retail sales within the next 10 years. The report states that that growth will be powered by three primary factors: the changing demographics of the UK adult population; the development of faster, cheaper home deliveries; and fewer physical stores.
Our high streets and small business owners will continue to be hit by those changes in shopping habits. The Centre For Towns showed that the decline of our high streets has picked up pace in the past 10 years as consumers shop online rather than visiting the high street. The Office for National Statistics reported that the number of retail businesses and the number of high street retail jobs fell in every region of England except London between 2012 and 2017.
Those trends are reflected in the two main towns in my constituency: Ellesmere Port and Neston. Both have a retail offer significantly smaller than it was five years ago, due to the dramatic changes we have heard about. The town centre in Neston has lost all its banks, which has had a negative impact on both customers and retail businesses. A lot of retail units are in private ownership, many of them too large for what retailers are looking for nowadays, and shops in Ellesmere Port are closing regularly, and are not being replaced. When banks close branches, they undergo what I consider to be a cursory consultation that changes nothing and does not require them to think about their wider responsibilities for the vitality of our town centres.