Work, Rest & Play: The Future of the High Street

I am pleased with the Report the High Street, Town & City Centre Commission has brought to Cabinet, this builds on the report which I brought to the then Executive of the Council in 2014.

Retail in the UK faces an unprecedented challenge in the first quarter of the 21st Century as shown in the graph in Item 1.4 of the Report, the rise of Online sales, which has grown from practically nothing at the time of the Millennium, to 10% of Retail sales in 2014, to 20% last year, reaching a peak of over 30% during the first lockdown period, a level of 25% may well be the “new normal” but that too will grow.

Online Retail Sales % 2006 – 2020

Ultimately, our Town & City centres, our High Streets, must adapt not only to survive but also to thrive.

For this we have got to get more people back into the habit of shopping, as fundamentally, for all that we can do as Councillors, the future relies on our residents hitting the high street, its their footfall which is the lifeblood of the high street.

Indeed, as an overview, when we think of the future of our high streets, we need to think of Mars Bars, as they need to become great places to work, rest and play.

On a wider note, recent announcements have indicated the Council has more financial room for manoeuvre than it thought it might, I would urge Cabinet to consider some short term boosts it could give our High Streets in the run up to Christmas and also the spring of next year.

I believe we need to look at making it easier for our residents to access the high street and for example, we ought to consider whether pedestrianised areas implemented in the 1980s and 90s are now helping or hindering our high streets, especially in an era of “click and collect”.

This report outlines in detail over 230 factors, 25 priorities and 4 key recommendations for the Cabinet to consider and I hope you will approve this.

I would like to give my thanks to all those who contributed to the report especially all the comments we got from our residents and partners across the borough, there is clearly great demand and desire for the recovery of our High Streets and I hope this report will help us deliver it.

1 concern I do have, based on my experience of the 2014 report, is the recommendation with the Cabinet Report, at item 2.1, which refers to area based plans and the Regeneration Boards as being charged with monitoring their progress, I would urge Cabinet to consider a specific role for the existing Member Working Groups in relation to the creation and adoption of area based plans.

I do have a concern that as things stand we don’t have enough Local Focus involved with the individual High Street, Town and City centres we want to help. We already have Member Working Groups for the 4 big retail centres – Chester, Ellesmere Port, Northwich and Winsford.

We can hit the ground running with this, let’s do so.

[The Report was adopted with reassurances of local member involvement.]

Additional: As previously stated in my 2014 and 2018 articles, High Streets need 3 things; firstly convenient access and parking, secondly making centres more appealing through promoting vibrant markets and heritage features and finally encouraging more people to live and work here.

2020 Report: High Street Town and City Centre Commission Final Report

Appendix 1 High Street Town and City Centre Commission Report and Recommendations November 2020

Appendix 2 – Report of the Town and City Centre Group 2014