Leave a comment
Be the first to add a comment.
Lockdown has hit the high streets hard. Restrictions imposed to contain the virus stopped the operation of retail, bars and restaurants, and the plea to work from home where possible brought activity to a grinding halt in March. As a result, footfall at the end of May, on average, was just over a fifth of what it used to be as shown by the Centre for Cities’ High streets recovery tracker.
As some shops reopened on 15 June and pubs and restaurants will be able to follow suit from Saturday, cities up and down the country have been thinking about how best to support their high street to adapt to the new normal imposed by Coronavirus.
To find out more, we organised a policy exchange with our cities and these are some of the most interesting things we found out about what they have been up to.
Coronavirus has meant local authorities, political stakeholders and business organisations had to come together to find solutions for their local areas.
This has been visible up and down the country: Norwich BID set up a number of Plan Ahead Teams involving local authorities, businesses and third sector organisations to look at how best to support the hardest hit sectors during the crisis. Similarly, York organised sector roundtables to ensure all key stakeholders were consulted in the drafting of the recovery framework.
Coordination within the council and among external stakeholders led to a more efficient use of resources – and it is something councils would like to continue to do even once the immediate crisis is over. This is welcome as Lina Liakou stressed in our podcast back in March, local coordination is a key element for city resilience.
Cities are coming up with inventive solutions to ensure social distancing is maintained as shops and restaurants reopen – from encouraging small behavioural adjustments from citizens to more radical interventions to the public realm.
Doncaster for example is adopting a “keep left” principle, advising all visitors to the town centre to use the left-hand side on busy streets, while Norwich is providing businesses with floral graphics and signages to use for queuing purposes.
Basildon is closing traffic on some of its main streets in the town centre to ensure individuals can shop safely, while Bournemouth and Coventry intend to introduce chairs, tables and umbrellas on their high streets for people to be able to rest outdoors while shopping.
Historic cities with their narrow streets face additional challenges when adapting to social distancing. To overcome this, York is introducing a one-way system and reducing car access to the city centre.
As we pointed out in our recovery framework, easing planning rules to allow for businesses to operate on pavements and parking spaces can play an important role in supporting many local services businesses such as cafes and restaurants in the reopening phase as it would give them a chance to serve a larger customer base than they otherwise would if restricted to their premises.
From the very beginning of the crisis, cities have used their convening powers to provide practical support for the business community. In Coventry for example, the Business Improvement District helped businesses with surplus of food redistribute it to food banks, preventing waste.
As the lockdown is gradually lifted, cities are also making sure businesses are able to reopen safely. In Norwich, the BID is doing so by leading on the procurement of PPE and other safety equipment in bulk for its businesses, meaning businesses can access this equipment at a better price. And in Bristol, the Business Improvement District is running a series of webinars to help businesses navigate the Government guidance around reopening.
These measures are helping businesses up and down the country reopen while building confidence among customers that it is safe to come back to the high street.
That said, cities are also facing three outstanding challenges:
1. There is a severe lack of data to understand who is using the city centre for what purposes
One of the key barriers to action for local authorities is a lack of understanding of which businesses and which customers have been most affected by the pandemic. Cities know little about who uses their public realm, where people come from, where they prefer to spend their money and how much they spend. They have tried to get the data from network providers but this is often too expensive.
This is considered as a big limitation on how well they can manage space and to develop customized responses for different parts of their cities. Our high street recovery tracker aims to help places understand the recovery of their city centres better, but cities would benefit from in-depth analysis of these trends.
2. Build confidence among locals that tourists are welcome
Cities initially focused on getting their residents back to shop on their high street. However, some places are heavily reliant on tourism, meaning without an influx of people from other places their high street will continue to struggle. Yet residents in places such as Blackpool fear this could cause an increase in infections.
Clear messaging from the national government and enforcement of rules would help people feel safer about using public spaces as well as welcoming tourists.
The first output of the high street recovery tracker illustrated that it is particularly strong city centres which are facing a slow recovery of their high streets. This is mainly due to office workers still working from home. The places where they shop or get their lunch, the after-work pubs, all remain empty. The problem is more severe for stronger city centres as office space is more central to their city centre economy. For these cities, the main challenge is around getting workers back and is at this point, out of their control. National led schemes such as a temporary VAT cut or time-limited vouchers to spend locally can be possibilities to boost demand.
Be the first to add a comment.