Graham Galpin MSc FIPM, Economic Development Consultant shares his insights on how Covid-19 will affect our High Streets and Town Centres, this is the latest in a series of blogs by Graham.
For a blogger or even for mainstream media, finding the spirit of the age becomes quite an issue. I see that momentum that we have now to move on to a newer normal can make us out of date before we can be published. Over-all I would suggest that the zeitgeist is the democratisation of society at the lowest level and of the composition of the town centre.
On the 25th the Prime Minister announced that open-air markets can begin trading next week (1st June) non-essential stores will be allowed to reopen on the 15th June, providing that they are COVID-19 compliant.
That is an important condition and I have seen the methodology working well in some “essential” outlets but abysmally in others. Alarmingly this has included some national and international names who should know better. The even better news is that I can get a pint in my local on Independence (sic) Day.
Key to success is “One out, one in” with the capacity of the store calculated to allow social distancing. Similarly, one-way routes around the store prevent embarrassing impasses.
One has to recognise the impact on Local Authority reserves of the virus, my own local LA is £4.5m down, but the recent share of money going out to Local Authorities will have created the appropriate measures to ensure people use their town centres with care.
This must include one-way systems for pedestrians, marshalling to keep shop queues from straying into the path of others, more cycling and walking routes. BUT this is only part of the pre-recovery process. The real business will be which real businesses return to trading.
Bear in mind that lack of confidence in the infection control, changes of habit to internet trading and the already existing changes the high street is experiencing mean that, for example, in Germany, only 10% increase in footfall was experienced at the lifting of lockdown. We are far from out of the woods.
I hear tales of businesses being forced to pay interest on their rent holiday. Of course, landlords need to keep solvent but more than ever we need to be working together not against each other. Landlords need to recognise that if they drive out their present occupants then getting new tenants in the near future is going to be a challenge. One must bend or break in these circumstances.
We can be in regular touch with our councils. I can give you some examples of organisations working with LAs that in my own experience, add value at least, or more importantly democratise and influence decisions. Individual businesses and business organisations, Civic Societies, Business Improvement Districts, Chambers of Commerce, FSB, and the voluntary and community sector have this power and so do you. You as a community may want to take on a vacant building and organisations like Power to Change can assist in this.
Your high street will look different with greater opportunities for you to influence how it is used – we will still need to shop and the 15-minute city will become more important but the array of services available will increase too.
Organisations and the community must all be working as closely as possible, in partnership with the political leaders locally to get a united front and hang together, for as sure as eggs are eggs, if you don’t you will hang separately.