THE chronicle of a death foretold spans years. The evidence that the high street is dying is in the empty shops, the discount and charity outlets, brands that have perished, while the tattered survivors of the retail plague have moved to set up in mini-malls in the heart of population centres, or in sprawling ones on the periphery.

There is a mountain of facts in testimony, repeated bleatings from interest groups, reports, MPs warnings of ghost towns, experts on TV pontificating about reviving them, even trying to do so in controlled models. But do we even care?

According to a recent report from Awin (owned by China’s Alibaba, the world’s largest online commerce company), four out of 10 of us don’t, most predicting the imminent demise with almost one in three saying they never visited the high street, the overwhelming number simply shopping through the internet.

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And while the respondents may have been untypical of the average shopper, there is plenty of evidence that consumers have voted with their fingers.

Each year more shops close than open in the UK, with an average of 14 a day pulling down the shutters permanently, clothes shops and pubs the biggest casualties.

Woolworths, Toys ‘R’ Us, BHS and Comet are gone. Debenhams, under siege by new House of Fraser owner Mike Ashley, completed a £200 million refinancing deal with a programme of up to 60 store closures.

At a retailers’ summit in March in Edinburgh, Stuart Moncur of estate agent Savills chimed another death knell, warning that some towns will lose shops as the impact of online shopping and out-of-town retail parks continues to bite.

“We have got to accept that there are locations which will not be a retail hub moving forward. We have got to accept that we have far too much retail [space],” he said.

“Town centres are about convenience. Beyond that, there will be no need for retail.”

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This was underlined by Katherine Mackintosh, managing director of Robertson Regeneration and Property. “We have to learn that there is a hierarchy and there are places that aren’t going to be the same in the future,” she said.

“We need to understand better what function each place has, rather than everybody thinking they have to have the same shops and deliver the same thing.”

So if we are looking for something convenient and different, for individually-tailored solutions, what do we do?

Blitz town and city centres? Rebuild? Plant trees, grass and plants?

Well, if you’re the Scottish Government you’ll commission a national review and put out a Town Centre Action Plan with quite a number of plans but not much action.

A report about further reports, talking about asset audits, working with private capital, cultural and environmental organisations, supporting community-led activity, and quite a lot of bureaucratic gobbledegook about “working with public-sector bodies to model ways in which communities can take occupation of public buildings when they are no longer required by the public body”.

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This action plan was published in 2013 and also promised a community empowerment act, which was delivered in 2015.

It promised quite a lot, from participation in public decision-making, the involvement of supporters in football clubs, giving community bodies the right to “request to buy, lease, manage or use land and buildings belonging to local authorities, Scottish public bodies or Scottish ministers” – these assets having been identified and listed (they have been, if you know where to look).

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But as with so many grand plans to save our struggling town centres, the benefits are glaring in their absence.

What about the asset transfer provision, which required every local authority to publish an annual report setting out the numbers of asset transfer requests received and their outcomes?

This came into effect in June last year.

A comprehensive report has yet to be published but from a cursory survey there appear to have been few requests – none in South Ayrshire for example – with a smattering in councils outside the central belt (for Portpatrick Public Hall for instance), 10 in Glasgow and, in Edinburgh, there are only two published, for Ravelston Park Pavilion and the old St John’s RC Primary School in Portobello.

We’re hardly seeing the mass transfer of public buildings into community hands.

If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, whether a major retailer or a small shop still gamely clinging on, it’s footfall.

That’s punters passing by, or not passing and buying.

Many town centres become dreich, stark, empty and potentially dangerous when the shops close and the night closes in.We spent decades planning and carrying out the wholesale removal of huge swathes of the population – now we need them back.

There has to be much more city-centre living, which the Scottish Government has recognised but is constrained by both finance and UK regulations in mounting a massive programme of city-centre council and affordable housing.

Individual councils have been selling off land, almost exclusively to private developers who have their own timescales and their priorities don’t appear to be redeveloping in the heart of towns and cities.

A UK Government-commissioned report last year under Sir John Timpson, the man who heads the shops where you get your keys cut and shoes repaired, recommended, again, a community-focused solution.

He called for an “upside-down” approach, empowering local communities to plan future high streets and city centres around centres where social and leisure facilities sat alongside retail units and housing in what he described as “community hubs”, which hardly answers the here and now.

Yet another report earlier this year by the Centre for Cities think tank mapped UK cities with the strongest city-centre economies and identified their common features.

These had fewer shops but were supported by “knowledge-based” office jobs – such as those in marketing, finance and law – which created a market for restaurants, bars and other leisure activities to thrive on the high street.

This may be an ambition to strive for but it is not practical for today or tomorrow. The think tank’s chief executive, or soothsayer if you prefer, Andrew Carter, predicted that “future city centres are likely to look very different to today”.

He said: “We must remember that a successful high street is the result, not the driver, of a successful city economy and take a more holistic approach to regenerating city centres – including allowing councils to access infrastructure funding as well as money set aside for high-street regeneration.

“Instead of trying to replace failed shops with more retail, investors and policymakers should focus their strategies on making struggling city centres attractive places to do business and spend leisure time – not just to shop.”

Which doesn’t answer what you do about the bleak and benighted town centres in places like Kilmarnock or Cumbernauld today.

Outside Scotland’s major city centres more than one shop in five is empty. Most of these will be owned by the country’s largest and most profitable property companies.

They’re forever going on about what business charges are doing to their businesses.

Why don’t councils double, triple or quadruple the rates on empty properties, assign a notional, community-operated rental figure to them and, if rented out at that figure, give the incoming business substantial relief for a period?

It’s not a cure but it would be an avenue for small, local operations to have a prominent location and outlet.

Why not organise concerts and events in the shoping centres in the evenings?

In the 1980s, a scheme called Miras (mortgage interest relief at source) allowed borrowers to get up to 40% off in the first year, declining subsequently to zero.

Could we not have a similar scheme for small business rent relief?

Why not redefine council tax house valuation bands, which were fixed in 1991, to hit the richest and bring in additional government revenue?

I know it’s a strong word, but cowardice is the answer. No government, of whatever political colour, is willing to tithe the rich and upper middle-class home owner.

If you’ve ever tried to shop in London’s Oxford Street, or indeed in parts of Glasgow city centre, you often do it choking in diesel fumes from buses and lorries.

Forget about congestion charges and – fruitless – monitoring of emissions. Why not look at banning all vehicles during the day from town and city centres, with only essential services and deliveries permitted in the early hours and in strictly defined lanes?

Then we could truly green our city-centre environment with banks of trees and plants, canopies, daises (the ones you perform on, not pick), entertainment and street theatre.

There is no perfect solution. At least not without massive public investment.

Sorry, but we need to blitz the worst (let’s start with Cumbernauld) and build on a human, integrated scale where people live alongside businesses, offices, parks and greenery.

Let’s hear it for the bulldozer.