Health on the High Street: Running on Empty 2018

Our 2018 campaign updates and expands on the original high street analysis, reflecting the ever-changing face of Britain’s retail environment

 The campaign offers practical guidance for local authorities and members of the public who want to make their high streets more health-promoting

What we're calling for

The physical environment surrounds our lives, and in subtle and not so subtle ways, affects our health. This campaign focusses on one aspect of place as a determinant of health – the high street retail environment.  

Our research looked at the health impact of a range of high street outlets – extending our 2015 analysis to include vape shops, convenience stores, off-licences, cafes, and empty shops – and used this measure to rank Britain’s major towns and cities by the impact of their high streets on the public’s health and wellbeing.

A key finding was around the proliferation of empty shops on Britain’s high streets – their clustering in more deprived areas, and the negative impact they can have on community wellbeing and spirit, representing a decline in community assets. 

Our key recommendations include: 

  • The treasury to review how businesses are taxed to ensure that online businesses are not put at an unfair advantage compared to the high street
  • Facebook and Google to provide discounted advertising opportunities to independent health-promoting businesses
  • Supporting meanwhile use of vacant shops to keep high streets vibrant: Local authorities to make records on vacant commercial properties publicly accessible
  • Local Authorities nationwide to introduce A5 planning restrictions within 400 metres of primary and secondary schools

The full list of recommendations are available in the report (view the appendix and references list)

The number of high street payday lenders has

reduced by a third

in the last three years

The number of vape shops doubled

from 1,000 to 2,000 in the three years preceding 2018

In 2007 the highstreet vacancy rate was below 7%

it had risen to 11%

by 2017

Resources hub

We have also created a resource hub for sharing guidance and advice aimed at planners, community activists, or anyone who shares the vision of a healthier high street environment.

This includes resources and best practice for planners, as well as case studies and advice for community groups who may wish to, for example, object to new retailers opening, particularly if they may have a negative impact on the local community’s health and wellbeing.

Related RSPH policy

Well Communities

This programme invests in projects lead by local people on how they can make their community healthier

Smokefree Communities

In 2007, smoking in enclosed public spaces in the UK was banned. This landmark step has reduced smoking-related harm, but we can and must go further to help the UK kick the habit for good.