Many town centres were in difficulty even before COVID and changes during the pandemic have turbo charged those problems. Town centres are important to so many of us. They are part of our identity even though many have seen better days. The challenge for government is how to first save them and then restore them as somewhere to be proud of.
Lockdown has been brutal particularly for non-essential retail. The sector needs not just short-term action but long-term security including help with business rates. They need an extended moratorium on evictions for rent arrears and councils should have the power to take over empty shops. But they also need shoppers and that’s why reducing Universal Credit would hit those people who rely most on local town centre shops.
Government departments need a joined-up approach. In health for example more people are choosing to have medicines delivered to their homes, but we need to protect local pharmacies from the same fate as many post offices.
Many of our town centres have micro pubs. The Scots have led the way in taxing micro breweries less and we should do the same. And the Department of Health’s crusade against salt, sugar and fats must avoid putting ice cream shops in danger.
Our Mayor Norma Redfearn is showing characteristic leadership with ambitious plans for North Shields. But Councils also need adequate funding – they were, after all, told by the Government that they will get whatever is needed to build back better – to regenerate town centres to make them vibrant again.