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 'It's time to save our high streets' - say Medway Liberal Democrats

November 19, 2020 9:30 AM
By Medway Liberal Democrats - Alan Wells

chatham high streetMedway Liberal Democrats are responding to the news of a Kent and Medway Business Summit in January to look at high street changes, Brexit and the impact of Covid19. We know how difficult it has been for our businesses, and the lockdown policies that the Government have introduced to slow the spread of Coronavirus have had a huge economic impact on our towns.

A 'Centre for Cities' report which tracks the recovery of high streets in Britain's cities and large towns, lists Chatham as 'being weak' in its recovery, as pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops are closed until 2 December. With unemployment rising, the report states 'South East England (outside London) is the UK region which has seen the biggest number of high street store closures since lock down began'.

Already, a number of businesses around Medway have closed for good. Local Liberal Democrats are now concerned for other small businesses which might not survive another lockdown. Businesses around Medway need support now to keep their doors open, and our high streets need to be revived to survive beyond the pandemic.

We are calling on the Council to support fledgling businesses, and to develop an action plan to help local businesses post lockdown in order to sustain jobs. Once the public health crisis has ended, the Council has to be proactive in using all its resources to make sure our high streets can thrive and develop a long-term response which recognises the economic damage done by Coronavirus. This will be central to how Medway recovers, and require careful thinking about what role we want our town centres and high streets to play. Thinking about the role of our high streets means thinking broadly, we don't just need more shops, there should be a mix of residential, artistic, creative, educational and public space put back into our town centres.

Vivienne Parker. Chairperson of Medway Liberal Democrats said, "In these challenging times, our local high streets are facing a crisis, with countless empty shops. Even before lockdown, our high streets were struggling, compounded by changes in consumer habits, years of neglect and poor planning. Medway saw several household name retailers close shops and many more suffering from poor sales figures.The pandemic has accelerated these trends, and with it, the need to act.

These businesses help make our local community what it is, and play a crucial role in our local economy. Lockdown has hit these local businesses hard, and for some their very existence may now be under threat and losing these businesses would be detrimental to the soul of our towns.They are places of identity, of connection and community, as well as economic exchange.

Key to the revival, is the number of people living on or near our high streets. People who live on the edge of town are no longer automatically shopping on our high streets but are doing their shopping in local supermarkets.There should be a mix of employment on our high streets, then both residents and workers will shop on the high street.

We have already called for a review of business rates to reduce burdens on small firms, and now in the run up to Christmas, this is going to be an important festive season and could be make-or-break for some of our small businesses and have a significant impact on Medway's economy. That's why we must pull out all the stops to help businesses survive and thrive to the end of 2020 and beyond."


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