Could Ipswich town centre shrink by half after lockdown?
PUBLISHED: 14:08 27 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:39 27 May 2020
Half of the business space in town centres may not reopen to customers after the end of lockdown – that’s the stark warning from Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement.
Mr Clement made his comment after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen shops from the middle of next month.
He said the prospects looked particularly bleak for the food and drink sector where half the businesses might never open – we are still some way from seeing pubs, cafes and restaurants opening – but there would be an impact on all sectors.
He said: “We are coming down from the height of the crisis and that is why the government is looking at reopening some sectors, but it is likely to be a very bumpy landing. We have been saying for years that town centres like Ipswich are going to have to change – this will accelerate that change.”
Overall the amount of space occupied by existing businesses in the town centre could fall by 50%. Mr Clement said: “Some premises will get smaller, some might simply not reopen at the end of lockdown. This is going to have a major impact on the town centre.”
Ipswich Central is working with the borough council and other members of the Ipswich Vision Partnership to bring life back to the heart of the town after the lockdown.
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This is not a situation confined to Ipswich – it is something that is likely to be replicated across the country as shoppers are wary about mingling with strangers on shopping trips.
Mr Clement said: “It is a question of confidence. People need to be able to feel confident going into a large shopping centre but I think everyone accepts it will take a very long time before people are as relaxed about going out as they were before.”
And town centres like Ipswich are going to have to change rapidly over the next few years to keep up with the cultural changes that had already started but have now being accelerated by the lockdown.
He said: “We have said that we have to move away from retail to other sectors of business and housing. That is even more true now – and it is a process that will have to speed up if town centres are to reinvent themselves to survive.”
The government has said that while outdoor markets can operate fully from Monday, June 1 (until now Ipswich market has only had food stalls) other shops including fashion, bookshops, mobile phone shops, and most others will be able to open from June 15. However, hairdressers and nail bars will have stay shut.
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