Return to High Street

Wednesday, 1 July, 2020

A column by Cllr Richard Millard

As a country our focus now has expanded from the immediate response of saving lives to restoring livelihoods and restarting our economy.

Once again, councils have a critical role in this and we are working in partnership with others to re-open our High Streets, kick start the local economy and get people back to work and back into town.

I was heartened to see so many non-essential businesses re-opening for the first time in three months last week. Slowly our communities are beginning to take shape again - but there is a long way to go.

There are things we can do to make this transition smooth and successful. Practical safety measures including new signs, street markings and temporary barriers will guide shoppers.

We have also posted ambassadors in our busiest centres to reassure shoppers and help manage safe social distancing in the High Streets. It’s going to be a little different and feel a little unusual to begin with, but we want shopkeepers and their customers to take these tentative first steps out in comfort and confidence.

That’s the best way to keep people safe and get our economy motoring again in the short term.

We do not know if the upheaval caused by the virus and the lockdown will change the way we live our lives more permanently.

It’s hard to see the future clearly from this point but it is inconceivable that this sudden and dramatic impact on our way of life will not have lasting effects.

As our economy begins to re-build I hope that we can influence these events and actively consider the way our communities look in future.

At East Hampshire District Council we have a team of planning and regeneration experts looking at ‘Placemaking’ – a way of shaping our biggest towns and villages to make them vibrant, successful and modern.

They have set themselves the task of asking the big questions facing our town centres over the coming years.

Are there other types of businesses that would complement the existing retail mix to lift our High Streets again, making them more attractive to visitors?

Can we improve our transport infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk and cycle into town, rather than rely on their cars?

Should our town centres grow from simply being a place to shop to becoming a destination in its own right?

Thanks to out-of-town retail estates and the growth of online shopping, our High Streets have been rapidly changing and adapting for the last two decades.

I believe we can seize this moment to mould our reforming economy into something new. By working with businesses and our other partners, particularly town and parish councils, we can help this evolution take place and turn the economic impact of the coronavirus into an opportunity for the future.