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Town centres in 2021 discussed at TVoA webinar

Thu 23 April 2020, 6:17 pm

Councils can reinvigorate their town centres as "destinations" at the heart of the community in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, The Voice of Authority's latest webinar has heard.

Local authorities around the country are now working on plans to revitalise their high streets once the pandemic has passed and shops and businesses can open their doors again.

Alan Harris, who is head of town centres and partner at property consultancy Montagu Evans, told viewers of the Thursday, April 23, webinar that communities are going through “massive change” in the crisis, but there can be “exciting” plans to emerge on the other side.

“Any good strategy - pre-Covid, post-Covid - has to have community at the heart of it”, he said, urging that town centres have to be more than just retail space in the future.

“It will include retail, leisure, civic, public realm, infrastructure, trains - it is the role of the local authority to bring all that together.”

Dawn Hudd, assistant director physical and cultural regeneration at Medway Council, agreed with his suggestion that many see the town centre as their “living room”, and developments should reflect changing patterns.

“It’s where we were going anyway”, she said. “Town centres as destinations, not just about retail.

“It’s about bringing animation to the town centres, bringing activity in the town centre and public realm space.”

Connor McDonagh, assistant director economic growth at Ealing Council, said the coronavirus crisis has had the effect of bringing communities closer together.

He has noted “how many businesses are keen to connect with their local community. It’s all about how local people who live in Ealing want to support local businesses.

“This pandemic has really enhanced that opportunity.”

Councils have used their existing networks of community groups and businesses to reach out during the crisis, helping firms to access small business loans and business rate relief schemes on offer.

Mark Bradbury, director of property and economy at Enfield Council, said the council is providing digital training for small businesses and has also partnered with website ShopAppy to help firms adapt to the lockdown conditions. Shopappy works with independent shops and businesses to show information, products and services in a particular place in one online space. 

“That now enables local businesses to get an online platform and to have a delivery partner without having to find a delivery partner. To have an online payment system without having to set that up and get trading online really quickly”, Bradbury said. “Those people who can’t trade traditionally giving them a really quick route to getting into that market.”

Bradbury said the government holds the key to local authorities making great strides after the crisis to reinvigorate and reinvent the high street landscape.

“The government needs to give us the tools to do more active investment, more active curation, in what happens next”, he said. 

He added the crisis could have the effect of bringing town centre landlords into discussions about how their properties are being used.

Harris, whose firm Montagu Evans sponsored this week’s webinar, added that there is a “massive depth of private sector desire to invest in the town centre”, which can be tapped into as communities emerge from lockdown.

The Voice of Authority's next webinar on Thursday, April 30, will look at workspace and commercial development post-pandemic. It asks if co-working, hot desking and open plan office spaces are a thing of the past?

Has Covid-19 created a permanent move for a landscape-changing proportion of the labour force to WFH? What do asset managers and occupiers see as the long-term effects of social distancing on work-style and workplaces?

To sign up head to www.thevoiceofauthority.co.uk/webinar


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