It’s summer: season of rain, flash floods and, er, major civil engineering projects. Try cutting through central London at the moment and the chances are very high that your progress will be slowed by closed streets, roadworks and temporary traffic lights.
Even semi-pedestrianised thoroughfares, such as Covent Garden’s Neal Street, are liable to have their entire length fenced off as the road is torn up and narrow walkways are provided either side of it. This is, of course, all in the name of a better future, as tube lines, sewers and cross-rail systems are installed or modernised.
Move from the UK capital to the Scottish capital and the story is the same. Edinburgh’s Princes Street is a building site as rails are put down for the tram system that everyone, presumably, has been clamouring for. And so it goes on. All fine unless you happen to be a retailer.
Most high street retail is posited on the notion that people will pass by your shop, look at the offer you have in the window and then make a decision about whether it’s worth wandering in or not. Problems tend to occur if access is difficult or, in the worst case, if you can’t see the store at all.
You have to assume that the reason that all of these projects are taking place now is that it is assumed to be the best time for this happen. Yet consider the facts. Summer is the time when daylight hours are at their longest and shoppers tend to linger longer of an evening. Now couple this with the fact that it’s also the time of year when the big cities see a major influx of tourists all eager to buy that essential item to remind them or their nearest and dearest of 2009’s UK jaunt.
And 2009 is the year, above all others this decade, when retailers need to be in a position to put their best feet forward. The recession is certainly taking its toll and to find that as you struggle to attract available consumer spend that shoppers are struggling to get into your store is fighting with one hand tied behind your back.
There are plenty of reasons for shoppers not to head down the high street at the moment and yet it seems that a combination of central government, planners and associated Quangos are determined to add to them. Does nobody consider the likely effects of street upheaval on what is generally considered to be one of the engines of the economy?