Town centres and high streets must act now to develop ways to recover and transform once the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has passed, according to research from Manchester Metropolitan University.
In order to assist people and organisations responsible for supporting their towns and cities through the pandemic, Manchester Metropolitan’s Institute of Place Management (IPM) has developed a unique COVID-19 framework.
Town centres and high streets should immediately start planning for recovery, researchers say, as data shows footfall is down 81% compared to the same time last year. There has already been a wave of high-profile retail closures during the pandemic.
The four-stage framework is designed to be used by local authorities, Business Improvement Districts and policymakers to ensure as many businesses and consumers return to the high street as possible, as well as encouraging to people to think about what type of town centre they want in the future.
It also addresses the effect that a prolonged lockdown could have on fundamentally changing consumer behaviour, as people become dependent on having products delivered to their home and get used to exercising, socialising and working from home.
With the impact of travel bans already evident in many tourist and holiday destinations, the framework will provide guidance for those places where plans for transformation will be put on hold, as funding is diverted to surviving the crisis.
As the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making better places, the IPM is already leading the government’s High Streets Task Force to deliver support to local authorities and communities who want to transform their high streets.
The new COVID-19 framework will advise the approach of the Task Force and calls for systematic analysis of data, coordination, collective leadership and management.
Cathy Parker, Professor of Marketing and Retail Enterprise and Co-Chair of the IPM at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “As the professional body for the place management sector, it is the IPM’s role to continuously monitor the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic and provide guidance to our members, partners and places.
“It is not clear what our towns and cities will look like after the end of the outbreak.
“However, by taking into account the knowledge and expertise that we have accumulated over the years by working with the government, local authorities and our partner agencies, we believe that many town centres and high streets may not manage to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis unless they start acting immediately to develop the necessary capacity for recovery and then longer-term transformation.”
The implementation of strict public health measures in the UK has seen the majority of service-based and non-food retail, hospitality and leisure business premises remain closed to reduce social contact.
Footfall, a key metric in the management of town centres and other commercial areas, has declined since the lockdown was announced last month.
Within a week of the announcement, figures from data and intelligence provider Springboard showed that footfall was down 81.4% compared to the same period last year.
The relatively short period of disruption has already triggered a first wave of high street store closures.
Prof Parker added: “We hope that our framework will help place managers and other relevant audiences to not only start acting immediately towards combating the crisis, but also to develop a coordinated and systematic approach to the management of its recovery and improvement.
“These are times where strong governance, place leadership, community vigilance and participation, and wise use of data and technologies are needed, as well as the support of professional place managers in order for towns and cities to survive.”
Nadia Broccardo, Chief Executive of the London Bridge Business Improvement District (BID), said: “We’ve modified the framework developed by IPM to fit around initiatives that best suit local requirements and the types of businesses in London Bridge.
“We were able to reorganise our resources quickly to mitigate the first crisis stage and our businesses have responded extremely positively. The framework demonstrates clear progression from the current situation to give us and our partners the structure and confidence to adapt and take the bold steps required.”