A SENIOR councillor insists some town centre firms may not survive the impacts of the coronavirus, but is adamant the high street will bounce back.

Kevin Robinson, Southend Labour councillor for business, culture and tourism, said he believes Southend High Street is “not going away” despite the impact on business of the virus.

He said: “It’s likely some companies may not survive this and some firms will not be able to stay in the high streets.

“I think it’s also likely that we see social distancing measures brought in for most high streets, that have not done so already and are yet to re-open.

“It’s a top priority of mine and the council’s to make sure people are safe are and kept safe in the high street and town centre.

“People will want to go back to normal shopping activities, like we did before the virus lockdown, as safe as it’s to do so.

“The high street is not going anywhere and the council’s commitment to improve it has not changed despite the pandemic.”

Business leaders say shop rent and parking charge reductions could help save our high streets

HIGH Street staple Debenham’s is on the brink and some John Lewis stores may never re-open as we emerge from the coronavirus lockdown. 

The pandemic has already brought huge social change - and a shift in shopping habits is one of them. 

With most of us confined to home for weeks, we’ve bought online and had our groceries delivered more than ever before.

So where does that leave our town centres - can they survive? Business leaders believe they can - with help. 

A raft of measures to create the right environment for a retail revival is crucial, says Essex Chambers of Commerce.

The leading business group is urging landlords to reduce shop rents and encouraging councils to slash car parking fees to help attract businesses and shoppers.

Senior councillors are willing to talk.
David Burch, director of policy, said: “The shutdown of much of the UK’s economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the high streets of Essex. 

“Some shops have remained open by introducing social distancing measures but many have taken advantage of the Government’s various business support schemes and closed altogether. 

“Some of the major retailers may go altogether but who will fill the premises they leave? Smaller retailers and businesses may be more adept at changing working practices.

“However, smaller businesses probably won’t be able to afford the rents of larger vacant properties. 

“There are questions over whether landlords should seriously think about offering rent holidays or reducing rents to retain or attract tenants. This is something we have heard of happening in Colchester.”

Mr Burch said home working could become more widespread, resulting in more vacant properties being converted to housing. 

He added: “We need to see not just positive messages from ministers but schemes such as free parking to get people into town centres along with improved cycle networks. 
“I’m sure town centres will survive but they may be quite different from how they were before March of this year”  

‘Coronavirus will not be the death toll for high streets’

A BUSINESS group leader has refuted claims Covid-19 is the final nail in the coffin for high streets after years of struggles with the impact of online shopping.

The outlook for our high streets is looking bleak as lockdown rules start to lift.
However, Suzanne Gloyne, manager of Southend Business Improvement District - which represents town centre traders - insisted shoppers and residents will be drawn back.

She said: “Online sales have risen over the years and will of course have spiked in the last couple of months but I don’t agree with the death of the high street narrative. 

“Humans are social animals and enjoy meeting to shop, eat and share a drink in town centres. 
“The last few years have seen a change in demand for how we use the high street and it will change again in the coming months and years. 

“Southend Bid has been working with and for businesses since its inception to make the town a more welcoming, safe and desirable place to visit and we will continue to do so.” 

Her reassurances come as Primark plans to leave the Royals Shopping Centre in Southend and re-locate to the old BHS store. 
Debenham’s – which also has a store at the Royals – has been teetering on the brink as the Covid-19 crisis takes its devastating toll on the retail sector.

Ms Gloyne added: “In the short term we will see plenty of social distancing measures across the high street and seafront to protect staff and customers including barriers and increased signage. 

“Capacities in stores, cafes and leisure facilities will be kept to a minimum to ensure public safety and so the extended and flexible furlough scheme will allow businesses to keep costs down when they start operating.”

Saving our businesses is ‘race against time’

ONE leading businessman believes saving businesses will be a “race against time”.

Adventure Island owner, Philip Miller, who also owns restaurants in Southend, stressed a huge campaign would be needed to encourage people back to Southend as further steps are taken to lift the lockdown.

He said: “Right now nobody knows the answer.
“At a guess the high street and seafront will be off to a slow start and we all will need to operate twice as smart as before.

“It will need a real Herculean effort with real focus, from all parties to recover as best as they can. Shops may have to discount heavily to get things moving. 

“Restaurants and pubs may have to make customers offers they can’t refuse.”
Mr Miller added: “The council will have to pull all the stops out to encourage customers back to Southend and roll out the welcome mat.

“The Government will need to equally encourage businesses to restart. Some may just not have the heart to bother. 

“It might take six months or more to get any sense of which way the wind will blow. It might be a case of last man standing. If things don’t happen soon we really are in a race against time for everyone.”