In the parliamentary debate yesterday, Mr Cameron spoke of “reducing red tape” in order to get property repaired and London cleaned up. The example he used to demonstrate this “petty officialdom” was the insistence of local authorities to make shop keepers install toughened glass, rather than armoured steel shutters, on their shop fronts.
I’m sure he believes that every local authority has a Frenchman hidden in a cupboard, who comes out at night to add new regulations, when no one is looking.
It’s taken a lot of persuasion to get local authorities to recognise how damaging these armoured sheet shutters are to the environment of the high street. Not only do they make good canvasses for gang graffiti to mark out territories, but they never get cleaned up by the shop keepers, who take the view that they don’t care about the look of the their shop fronts at night, as the shop is closed.
If you walk into Dodge City and see that everyone has a gun, you’ll get a gun yourself. When I used to go to Brixton regularly, I was always reassured by the bank of CCTV cameras as I exited the tube station. I was reassured because I was aware of the high crime rate in the area, but I was only aware of the high crime rate because of the presence of the cameras. When those cameras were removed, I was relieved that Brixton has finally got dealt with their high crime rate. In fact, the cameras are still there, but no longer visible.
Recently, a local new development had a couple of shop fronts. A hairdresser occupied one of the units but wouldn’t move in or even put a sign above the door until she’d had an armoured steel shutter installed at a cost of £800. She would think so, because all the shops in the area have them. She needed to protect her shop from the shampoo looters.
It’s a real battle to revive our high streets in the face of tough competition from the supermarkets, and one of the ways we are doing this is to try to make the high street an attractive place to pass through in the evenings. If the street is dark and looks dangerous, then affluent residents will walk around the block to avoid it. They are unlikely to venture along on a Saturday morning in this situation.
Armoured steel shutters don’t protect properties, they attract looters. Young people presume, not unreasonably, that if a property needs this shutter, then there must be something behind that’s worth stealing. Banks don’t get looted, because banks don’t have armoured steel shutters. Hairdressers do get looted because they have armoured steel shutters.
It’s time Mr Cameron rolled up his sleeves and got educated about the role of civic leaders. It’s not petty officialdom, it is town planning. It’s not regulation, it is expertise. It’s not getting in the way; it is improving the high street, which is what everyone wants us to do.