Bridgwater Town Council Economy and Personnel Portfolio Holder Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria) reported to Full Council last night of support initiatives for the local economy and success stories for the Town Council which has increased its staff to provide more local and efficient public services. Cllr Lerry said that the Town Centres and High Streets have been under some pressure for some time, due to out of town shopping centres and online shopping. In November 2019 the Government set up a £3.6bnTown Fund to support over 101 places to level-up communities in England. In Somerset, Bridgwater and Glastonbury were the two Towns chosen. The aim of the Town Fund is for urban regeneration, skills and enterprise and connectivity, such as cycling, walking and public transport as well as digital connectivity.
Cllr Lerry says: “However, the Towns Fund was introduced at a time of decline in 2019, before the pandemic and we know that Covid-19 has had a massive impact on people or consumers’ behaviour. Social Distancing and lockdown has put the whole economy into a down-turn and recession. Yet we still do not know what the total impact will be on the Town Centres and High Streets. The repurposing of some businesses and retailers has helped during a time when many businesses and retailers were forced to close. In Bridgwater we do have some businesses and retailers who have not reopened after lockdown, who could be some of the first casualties of Covid-19”.
“With the funding from Government there will be a need to make sure that there is investment within a defined Boundary of Bridgwater. Town Centres and the High Streets cannot just rely on retailing to survive. There needs to be a broad focus on retail, leisure, hospitality, heritage and culture to allow communities to have the social connection within the boundary of the Town Centre and High Street” says Mick.
Cllr Lerry went on to say: “We have already seen the temporary changes introduced in Eastover and the High Street, to assist social distancing and pedestrianisation to aid the recovery of non-essential businesses during the reopening of the economy. Social Distancing has meant that there is a real problem for consumers to browse in the shops, but they can browse online and purchase goods. The delivery of goods once purchased locally are now delivered by an expanding national delivery service”.
“To encourage people back to the High Street and Town Centre, then there will have to be changes to the new demands of consumers and customers. Post pandemic the economic recovery for Bridgwater will need to be in a safe, clean, creative, entertaining and leisure boundary, which is well connected to other urban centres and cities and inclusive for those within the local community. It will be important for local people to be consulted on the 25 million investment plan for Bridgwater” says Mick.
“Many local people will look at their Town Centre and High Streets as a reference point for their own social progression and well-being. The quality of Town Centres and High Streets help people to understand how well they are doing in society, by the character of the place where they live and visit. The Town Fund investment must bring about the transformation of the Town Centre and High Streets, to make sure that the necessary change happens to aid economic recovery, for the people of Bridgwater” says Mick.
The Bridgwater Town Board to consult public
Town Council leader Brian Smedley (Labour,Westover) said “It is now time for Sedgemoor to finally present it’s plans to our Town Development Forum so that the public can comment on what will happen on Northgate and the Brewery Field and also, crucially, so that we can have a say in how this new Town Fund is spent. This meeting will be set up in the next few weeks.”