John Lewis Partnership chair Dame Sharon White has called for a royal commission review into the UK’s high streets, arguing that crime, mass store closures and antisocial behaviour were affecting town centres.

White said a rethink was needed to make town centres “once more welcoming places where people want to live, work and spend time”, citing the closure of 6,000 shops in the UK in the past five years.

Writing in The Telegraph today, White said: “Too many towns and cities are shells of their former selves. Boarded-up shops left vacant, dwindling numbers of banks and post offices. And in their place seemingly endless rows of vaping and charity shops.”

White, who also said that the partnership had been forced to close John Lewis stores and Waitrose supermarkets, warned that UK high streets risked “becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”.

“We need a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs,” wrote White, who pointed out that retailers have had to increase security, introduce bodycams and install more CCTV. “I want to see the Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence brought in UK-wide.

“We now need a new royal commission to set a course to revitalise our high streets,” she added. “Planning, taxation, crime, environmental policy, housing and transport all play their role, but must be considered as a whole.”

She said that a royal commission – an independently run public inquiry – would need to look at issues including the need for council planning to take account of post-Covid changes, “unfair” business rates and the impact of government decisions such as scrapping VAT-free shopping for tourists.

White’s rallying call comes on the same day that the GMB union warned value retail chain Wilko was about to collapse, closing more than 400 stores and losing some 12,500 jobs, after HMV owner Doug Putman pulled out of a talks for a last-minute rescue deal for hundreds of stores.