Tenterden Town Council has declared its determination to work with the local community and retailers to help shops and the iconic High Street recover once Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
Says Town Clerk Phil Burgess: “One of the town’s biggest generators of revenue and tourist income is our retail offering, and it is in everyone’s interests that we get back, up and running, as soon as conditions permit.”
While Waitrose, Tesco, banks and chemists have been open for some time, the government has announced that from 15 June, ‘non-essential’ shops can re-open.
The Town Council has given urgent backing for the development of a strategy and campaign to ‘Support the High Street’, and it was confirmed that the council is to advertise in the near future for a Town Centre Co-ordinator to focus on initiatives supporting the High Street.
Community interest has been generated with the publication of rough plans of what the High Street could look like in the future. However, Mr Burgess stressed that these were just the initial thoughts of some councillors on a Working Group of the Tourism & Business Sub-committee, and that any future detailed plans would need full Town Council and KCC approval, budget allocation, discussions with all stakeholder groups, and public consultation.
“The urgent priority is to support the retail assets we already have”, he said, “because they will be facing very challenging times.” The Town Council is working closely with ABC Business Support group to bring about temporary changes to ensure the High Street is safe and open for business. Physical barriers, suspension of parking bays, expansion of narrow pavements, one-way pedestrian systems and a number of signage aids will be in place in advance of the opening.
A report commissioned by the Council from tourism strategy specialist Seren Welch stated that while the town had bucked the national trend of declining high streets up until the end of last year, several independent shops and some chain stores have now gone – Laura Ashley and Oasis are in administration, while Monsoon has declared its economic vulnerability.
The report added: “As lockdown/social distancing is set to be with us for the foreseeable future, this will inevitably further impact on Tenterden’s High Street, especially due to the layout and age of many of the retail properties, who will find the two metre distancing criteria challenging.
“The appeal of the High Street is Tenterden’s core proposition, and by acting pro-actively to support this now will conserve the town’s longer-term touristic appeal in the future.”