In the latest part of our Talk of the Town column, Bromley Town councillor Nicky Dykes provides a positive outlook on what the future might hold for our high streets.

There is no denying that it is a challenging and competitive environment for our high streets at the moment, especially as we compete with large shopping centres like Bluewater and soon Westfield in Croydon. Then, of course, there is also the internet.

But people have been predicting the demise of the high street for decades, yet the high street manages to innovate and adapt.

The new Ikea planning store in Bromley High Street is a fantastic example of the future of the high street, as it moves away from its large warehouse stores to offer a more personalised and specialised service supported by digital technologies to help people design their homes. A service best delivered face to face but supported by their online presence.

For me, this is the key. The high street needs to focus on its unique selling point – its place in our community and as a place that offers a place to socialise, to immerse in culture, to admire heritage and lastly shop.

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It is for this reason that there has been a lot of investment in the public realm of our high streets across the borough in Orpington, Beckenham, Penge and Bromley (paving, lighting, seating, cleaning etc). It may feel like the council is continuously digging up the high street, but I promise it's not! These are phased works that will bring necessary improvements to attract shoppers and businesses as we aim to deliver a more holistic and destination-driven high street.

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Cllr Nicky Dykes

The good news is that the available data tells us it is working. In Beckenham there has been a 4.5 per cent increase in footfall and all units on the high street have been rented or a due to be rented. In Bromley North, there has been an 18 per cent uplift in footfall compared to past years before the improvements.

Our heritage and architecture is also something that can’t be replicated and it is set to get even better with the historical Royal Bell becoming a hotel and the art deco cinema in Bromley North being restored to its past glory as it becomes a Picturehouse cinema.

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We also had news recently that the beautiful Town Hall will be coming back into use for an exciting new venture. Where else can you have a drink in a building mentioned in Pride and Prejudice or watch a film in a cinema designed by one of the most famous architects of the golden age of cinema building?

I know it’s challenging out there, but there are also opportunities. High streets are beginning to capitalise on human interaction and enjoyment that they are well placed to provide.

It's interesting that shops are starting to provide community spaces and shopping centres are providing free soft play areas for children. It’s about that added extra only they can provide. It’s how they have survived and hopefully it is how they are going to thrive in an environment that won’t stay still for long.