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Funding for high streets and town centres post Covid-19

Future Cities Forum will be featuring news and events this year in the area of retail and the survival of the UK's high streets and town shopping centres.

The BBC reported that 2020 'was the worst for the High Street in more than 25 years as the coronavirus accelerated the move towards online shopping'.

Architectural practice Chapman Taylor has been discussing the need for shopping centres to 'maximise their convenience and comfort to compete with the relatively frictionless world of online shopping'. This the firm says 'may include 'more relaxation zones, an enhanced leisure offer, wellness ...improving access and egress to and from centres with more frequent public transport services, secure cyclist facilities...and the provision of EV charging stations to keep customers returning on a more regular basis.'

It goes on to talk about creating a sense of community, integrating the daily lives of local residents as well as customers passing by and suggests libraries, after-school clubs, dance studios and healthcare facilities which can increase the relevance of the shopping centre outside the traditional commercial functions. Good gastronomic offers provide more reasons to dwell and recharge.

Linking shopping centres to good green public space post Covid is also important. The pandemic has shown everyone the benefit of 'well planned place-making' and Bexley Council has been concentrating on this aspect of the 'town centre.'

Funds from the Government's Getting Building Fund have been secured by Bexley Council for local regeneration projects including a grant for schemes to improve Pier Road and a section of Erith High Street next to the Riverside Gardens. The funds total £900,000.

Bexley was working on both developments before the pandemic took hold and they are part of the Council's Erith Links programme to improve public spaces, highways and junctions in the town.

Councillor Louie French, Bexley's Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Growth said:

'The success of our bid is great news for the town and the local economy. These schemes will improve the town as a place to live and do business, and deliver a boost just when it is needed.'

The Pier Road scheme will improve the main pedestrianised section of the road between Cross Street and Erith High Street. It will create a modern attractive, safe, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly high street, which will encourage people to spend more time in the town. Work should start on the site next June or July and should be complete by October/November 2021.

The Erith High Street scheme will improve access to the soon to be renovated Riverside Gardens and riverside, making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Work is expected to start on site in September 2021 and should be complete by February 2022.

Government launched the Getting Building Fund in August and in London it has been distributed by the Greater London Authority. It aims to support the delivery of shovel-ready infrastructure projects, create more local jobs, and support the green recovery across the UK.

Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said:

'High streets and town centres are vital to London's economy and communities - and have a crucial role to play in the capital's recovery from Covid-19. This project is a great example of rejuvenating a town centre and this funding will help make Erith town centre even more attractive to local people and visitors.'


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