In the face of an unprecedented shift in retail dynamics, our beloved high streets of Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch are undergoing an alarming transformation. The shutters are drawing down on more businesses than ever before, as high rents, soaring rates and low footfall leave shop owners grappling with diminishing margins. One can’t help but wonder, should Bournemouth Council be doing more to forestall this alarming trend?
The answer to this predicament is unequivocally affirmative. Our high streets are the lifeblood of our communities, the places where trade, human connection, and local culture intersect. They contribute significantly to our towns’ character, spirit and economic vibrancy. Witnessing these vital social hubs reduce to ghost towns, with boarded-up shop fronts akin to the current state of Blackpool, is a potential reality we must strive to prevent.
As custodians of our community welfare, BCP Council can, and should, play a crucial role in supporting struggling businesses. Let’s delve into some potential measures they could implement:
1. Rent and Rate Reduction: Skyrocketing rent and rates are the primary burdens for many retailers. The Council could work alongside landlords to negotiate temporary rent reductions, offering much-needed respite. Additionally, advocating for adjustments in business rates at a national level can help create a more sustainable operating environment for these local businesses.
2. Promote ‘Shop Local’ Initiatives: Encouraging residents to invest their shopping pounds back into the local economy can have a huge impact. The Council can champion ‘Shop Local’ campaigns, utilising social media and local events to raise awareness and drive traffic back to our high streets.
3. Provide Business Advisory Services: In the fast-evolving retail landscape, business owners often require guidance to adapt and survive. The Council could offer advisory services, providing insights into digital transformation, customer engagement, and strategies to enhance in-store experiences.
4. Establish Grant and Loan Schemes: Financial assistance in the form of local grants and low-interest loan schemes can provide the lifeline businesses need to innovate and withstand difficult periods.
5. Review Planning Permissions: Current regulations can limit how businesses utilise their premises. By rethinking planning permissions, the Council could allow businesses to diversify their services, thus attracting a broader customer base.
In the face of this retail crisis, inaction is not an option. The potential ramifications are far-reaching, impacting not just our economic fabric but our communal identity.
However, amid these challenges, we must remember that our high streets have always been emblematic of resilience and reinvention. With proactive measures from the Council, backed by a supportive and engaged community, we can help them to weather this storm and emerge stronger.
The high streets we cherish deserve our best efforts. Together, with the right measures in place, we can ensure that Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch continue to be vibrant centres of trade and community – the pulsating heartbeats of our towns.
The Bournemouth Observer: Putting Local Businesses on the Map.