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Kent high streets becoming ‘dormitories for London’, MP warns

PUBLISHED: 15:23 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:23 23 February 2017

Edenbridge High Street. Photo: Google

Edenbridge High Street. Photo: Google

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Tom Tugendhat urged the government to hold a formal discussion into the cultural value of high streets

Kent’s quirkiest high streets are at risk of losing their cultural value and becoming “dormitories for London”, a county MP has warned.

With the rise of online shopping and banking, high streets have come under threat in recent years, no more so than in Kent where MPs have criticised the decision by major banks to close dozens of branches across the county.

Small firms are finding it harder than ever to survive, with business rates - a tax on the rateable value of their property - on the rise, and footfall on high streets and in town centres on the decline.

Tom Tugendhat, who represents Tonbridge and Malling, made the statement in the House of Commons on Thursday during a discussion with leader of the house, David Lidington.

“I wonder whether the leader of the house might encourage the government to give some time to talk about not just the economic value of the high street but the culture that it brings,” he said.

“As we are talking about business rates very widely at the moment, it would be wrong to focus simply on the economic output but actually on the very nature of the society high streets bring.

“Otherwise towns like those that I represent, Edenbridge, West Malling and Tonbridge, will simply be dormitories for London and lose the very essence that keeps our county and our country so great.”

In response, Mr Lidington said: “What’s important in a world where everyday lives and the nature of business is being transformed rapidly by digital technology and social change is that we find ways that enable our high streets to continue to thrive both economically and culturally, as [Mr Tugendhat] says while adapting to the new challenges of this century.

“High streets that remain fossilised tend to fail and there’s some really good examples all round this country of where local business communities in the high streets have successfully adapted and I hope that we can find mechanisms for disseminating that good practice.”

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