£96m investment plans for West End, coastal towns and high streets
A number of funding initiatives have been unveiled by government and business groups to help push retail back into a healthier position than it would otherwise be post-Covid.
New West End Company (NWEC) said that West End businesses will invest £40 million into services to enhance and progress the district as it recovers from the impact of the pandemic.
The West End has been hit hard by the pandemic – perhaps harder than any other area in the UK – with the tourist and office workers on which it depends having now been absent for more than a year. Footfall to the area has at times been down more than 80% and given how expensive property is in the location, it's unsurprising that a number of retailers have announced plans to close West End flagships.
The new investment comes on top of other initiatives such as the £150 million that Westminster City Council is investing in the regeneration of Oxford Street and its surrounding neighbourhood.
NWEC said the new five-year investment “will be focused on rebuilding customer and investor demand and supporting the recapitalisation of businesses, returning the district to £10 billion annual turnover, securing its status as an economic powerhouse to the UK economy”.
The investment will include creating a year-round programme of campaigns and events “in a safe and welcoming environment highlighting our diversity, sustainability and richness to ensure the West End remains the number one consumer destination for experiences, not just for Christmas, but all year around”.
It will also focus on building a “world-renowned data and insights platform with access to information across economic performance and environmental best practice”.
And it will “deliver the first Zero Emissions Transport Zone in London by 2025”.
There will be other areas of spending that are quick wins, such as investing in street cleaning and security services.
Meanwhile, the UK government has also announced a £56 million “welcome back” fund to help kickstart a return to coastal towns and high streets in England, helping businesses to reopen as the lockdown easing timetable gets under way from this month.
The money is intended to help local councils improve the look and feel of the destinations, with the hope that this will make it more appealing for consumers to visit. That means improving green spaces, encouraging dwell time with the addition of things such as outdoor seating and pop-up food stalls. The money can also be used for marketing campaigns to encourage consumers back to high streets or to create special footfall-driving events.
And while the money is available for inland towns as well as coastal ones, the coast will be a particular priority. Resort towns could see something of a boom this year with the prospect of Britons being allowed to travel abroad on holiday looking increasingly remote. Despite the restrictions last year, people flocked to towns with beaches and with retail reopening, if this is repeated in 2021, trade could be brisk.
There will certainly be a need for domestic tourists given that it's unlikely international tourists will be returning to the UK during the summer in large numbers.
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