The credit crunch refuses to loosen its grip on Lewisham, with a quarter of its town centre shops standing vacant.
Small and medium businesses play a vital role in the borough’s economy, and the empty pockets in its high streets paint a grim picture.
One local shop owner, who did not wish to be named, said that while the opening of the East London line should improve business, “we need the council to support us so that more shops open around the area and attract customers.”
Councillor John Russell told EastLondonLines he was concerned about public opinion as Lewisham struggles to lift itself clear of the recession. “A significant proportion of our shops, around 25 per cent, are vacant, which leads to a general impression among the residents that the council has ignored the high street.”
Cllr Russell chairs the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel in Forest Hill. A report on the high street’s condition was commissioned and presented before the assembly on February 1. It made a referral which will be presented to Lewisham’s Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, on March 2.
“We have devised a number of short, medium and long-term plans regarding area-based improvement schemes and will try to get funding for them,” said Cllr Russell. “The current estimation for the project is around £1m pounds and will include plans to improve the communal areas and clear the street clutter.”
Mr. Russell said the council wants to maximize opportunities from the opening of the East London line. The development of high streets has been lauded as an important part of the economic recovery. It would lead to a more resilient local independent sector and would generate funds to support local economic growth.
“I hope we see a massive rise in small businesses in all retail sectors, from coffee shops to real estate”, said Jennifer Baker, 35, a local customer and resident of Forest Hill.
Lewisham has 6,285 VAT-based enterprises, of which more than 28 per cent have a business life of 10 years or more, according to Office of National Statistics data. The New Economics Foundation claims a UK high street initiative will help stabilise and sustain the growth of smaller independent shops which are going bust at a rate of 2,000 a year.