The recent history of the high street and town centres has been one of difficulty and decline. Since the 1980s and 1990s high street shopping has been in competition with out of town retail centres and supermarkets offering choice, convenience and free parking in a sanitised and purpose-built environment. Leader of Sedgemoor Labour Group, Cllr Mick Lerry (Bridgwater Victoria) and Bridgwater Town Council spokesman for Commerce believes Labour can halt this drift.
Cllr Mick Lerry said: “In Bridgwater there has been a constant drift in this direction, and high street stores have faced growing competition from online retailing. Online transactions accounted for 20 per cent of total sales in December 2018. Online shopping provides almost limitless choice, often at a significant discount, which high street shops cannot always match. There has been a radical restructuring of the sector, the negative aspects of which are store closures, empty shops, and job losses. Empty retail units, represent the downturn in footfall on the high street. The type of business on the high street is also changing, with growth in barbers, beauty salons, vape shops and mobile phone shops and a reduction in pubs, electrical goods, women’s clothing and newsagents”.
More Focus on Employment, Leisure & Public Services
“Town centres can no longer rely on retail to bring people into towns, instead there should be more focus on employment, public services and leisure including cinemas, parks, libraries, cultural events and festivals. Residential accommodation could also increase footfall as well”, says Mick.
Labour Councillors believe that: “Town centres are at their best when they are providing gathering places for community interaction, including central focal points for people to meet and where events can be held. Well-designed and well-maintained town centres need to be reimagined as places for activities and community gathering, with their own distinct identities based on local heritage”.
“That’s why Labour Councillors voted against the development of Tesco at Northgate and promoted the use of the area for leisure, recreation and education. That is why Labour Councillors supported the development of a school, multi screen cinema and other leisure and recreational units at Northgate. The Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council have also produced a recovery plan for the Arts Centre to provide a cultural experience in the Town Centre”, says Mick.
Transformation & a Clear Direction
Cllr Mick Lerry said: “Labour Councillors if elected, will make sure that the local authority will lead and intervene to drive the necessary transformation and set a clear direction for the town and high streets. Whilst there are many different interests in the high street, no one has overall control. Under Labour the local authority will lead and take action, in partnership with other stakeholders in the third sector, private sector, public services and local people, to make sure that the High street and Town Centre recovers”.