Minister sets out support for town centres

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The future form and function of high streets will be debated when the Leader of Epping Forest District Council, Councillor Chris Whitbread shares a platform with Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP and other key opinion formers. The debate is set to focus on the strategic thinking that will be needed to help high streets and town centres thrive.

The conference on December 2, at Sadlers Wells in London, gives the opportunity to hear from veteran retailer Bill Grimsey, author of the controversial Grimsey Report; Matthew Hopkinson, of the Local Data Company; and Dr Julie Grail of British BIDs.

Councillor Chris Whitbread outside Argus Lighting, a mainstay of Epping High Street for decades

Councillor Chris Whitbread outside Argus Lighting which has illuminated Epping High Street for decades

Along with case studies from successful town centres, and a selection of political representatives, delegates will have an opportunity to hear cutting edge thinking on managing town centres, and to hear the very latest in the debate around their future – how restoring community uses and reducing retail footprint could help, what trends can be seen in the data, and how businesses of all types can be encouraged to take the lead in managing the future.

Councillor Chris Whitbread knows all about local high streets, having run his own business in Epping for many years. He said: “The way we use our high streets is changing and businesses need to change with us. Out-of-town retail and online shopping have revolutionised the way we use our high streets. For some businesses, that means our online presence is now just as important as our shop fronts. For others we may have to look even more fundamentally at what we are doing and why.”

He continued: “High streets and town centres need to reinvent themselves. Today’s customer is looking as much for a social and leisure experience as for bargains and deals. Many people believe bars, restaurants and coffee shops are becoming some of the new ‘High Street Kings’. They draw people in and encourage them to spend their money. It is then up to the rest of us to make the best offer we can to deliver the full modern High Street experience.”

The conference is being organised by The London Stansted Cambridge Corridor Consortium, a partnership of public and private organisations covering the area north of Tech City, the City Fringe, Kings Cross, and the Olympic Park, up through the Lee Valley and M11/A10, and West Anglia Rail corridors to Harlow and Stansted, and through to Cambridge. The partnership was formed to organise and promote what is the economic area, with strong inter-connections; commuting to work and learn patterns, clusters of industries and supply chains. 

Councillor Whitbread believes councils have a very important part to play. He said: “Thriving town centres are an essential element in the lives of our local communities. They provide investment and employment that can lift whole communities out of deprivation into prosperity. At Epping Forest we always try to be on the side of our High Streets.  We can do practical things such as keeping our parking charges low and offering incentives such as free parking on Saturdays in the run up to Christmas. We can use our powers as the Planning Authority to encourage a mix of uses that compliment each other and stimulate trade. We can draw people in from outside our area by promoting ourselves as a visitor and tourist destination. We can contribute to the infrastructure and care of our town centres whether that means decent pavements, good lighting or frequent street cleansing.”

He concluded: “It is a full partnership between the public and private sector. We understand the changing face of our High Streets and will do our best to encourage residents to shop local wherever possible.”