Leeds city centre will 'spring back to life' as lockdown roadmap eases restrictions on shops and hospitality
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The Government announced on Monday that it hopes to be in a position to allow non-essential retail to reopen from April 12, with pubs, cafes and restaurants also able to serve customers outside again from that date too.
But long-established brands like Debenhams and Topshop, which both had prominent sites in Briggate, are among the businesses that have not survived the challenges faced by the retail sector in the past year as repeated lockdowns sped up the existing trends around more online shopping.
Despite some high-profile retailers collapsing, the chief executive of the LeedsBID business and improvement district remains confident that the city centre and its high street can thrive once more.
Andrew Cooper said: "Leeds city centre will spring back to life and bounce back. We cannot rely on retail alone to aid the recovery effort. Our high streets and cities need to reinvent and reposition, and this requires a holistic view from all sectors of the community.
"No one organisation can solve this challenge alone, it requires a joint approach to ensure our cities and high streets remain resilient and strong. This is an opportunity for new sectors to come to the high street to reinvigorate it and give a mixed and diverse use.”
"Clearly retail has been hit hard by Covid, although the high street had been under pressure from online retail for quite some time before the crisis," he said.
"As a Chamber we have always said that to compete, town and city centres have to offer the experience which cannot be replicated online.
"The blending of leisure and hospitality into retail settings, the activities being led by Leeds Business Improvement District are all excellent examples. However, we must also see a fundamental rethink of the current business rates system."
He hopes the Spring Budget on March 3 will bring confirmation of support for those companies which will continue to face restrictions and limitations to their activities, ensuring they will be able to reopen when their turn comes.
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And while there has been much debate about the death of the city centre office, he thinks they will remain part of the mix for a long time to come.
Mr Goldstone said: "Covid has clearly shown that for many businesses it is possible to work remotely even if it wasn’t a universally adopted practice. I fully expect that this will remain a part of future working patterns, however we must remember what we have lost through a year of imposed isolation.
"Especially for more junior colleagues, we have lost the informal mentoring and coaching that took place in offices, the sharing of company’ cultures and values with new starters. We have lost the chance and overheard conversations in the workplace; of the innovation and collaboration both within and between organisations.
"Our ability to build and develop client relationships, whilst not impossible has been hampered. Most importantly we have seen the increasing impact on wellbeing and mental health in the workplace."
The immediate priority though for both LeedsBID and the Chamber continues to be supporting businesses to reopen and to find their way through the next six months.
Mr Cooper said: "The roadmap has been long awaited by businesses who are keen to plan for when restricted are lifted. Clearly the steps are caveated but give us some hope and optimism.”
"All businesses need time to prepare and plan before they open their doors. To have non-essential retail with outside pubs and cafes open on April 12 will create a move towards an experience we are all used to and looking forward to. The reopening of different sectors benefits all the businesses involved and enhances the customer experience."
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