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30-10-2013, 11:54
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Brandon Lewis, the “Minister for High Streets”, recently attracted a lot of criticism when he said that popular fast food outlets such as McDonalds and Burger King were “massively important” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/reinvent-the-high-street/10407985/Fast-food-restaurants-vital-for-Britains-high-streets-minister-says.html) to the success of Britain’s high streets. One person on Twitter even went so far as to refer to it as a “Gerald Ratner moment”.
However, surely he has a point that the success of high streets is crucially dependent on them containing businesses that people actually want to visit, and you can’t be too sniffy about what kinds of businesses they actually are. You could easily add Wetherspoon’s to that list. Much of the criticism seems to be driven less by a concern for standards of nutrition than by rank snobbery – you have to wonder whether there would have been the same reaction had he referred to Prezzo and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
Many so-called “High Street Campaigners” seem to have an unrealistic, dewy-eyed vision of them filled with hand-made toy shops, organic cafés, ethnic delicatessens and craft beer micropubs which is a world away from the reality of betting shops, pound shops and nail parlours. It is the kind of attitude satirised (I assume) by Lawrence Hennigan (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/mary-portas-praises-eccles-levenshulme-686112) when he said that if Levenshulme won a “Portas pilot” bid, “the government grant would be used to spruce up empty shops, which would then be filled by start-up businesses selling art, crochet knitting and cupcakes.”
In truth, a lot of those who in theory profess their support for High Streets – and for pubs – in practice seem to want to do their best to ensure those institutions fail. Councils often seem to do far more to deter particular kinds of businesses from opening up than encouraging business in general.

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