A welcome strategy to invigorate town centres - Duncan Crow
A significant issue affecting Crawley as well as most other towns before the pandemic struck, was changing shopping habits that were having an impact on town centres and high streets.
The pandemic has speeded up this trend of increased online shopping and this year in our town centre we’ve seen the closure of two very large shops as well as some smaller ones, although new smaller shops continue to open which is welcome.
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There is no escaping the trend and it’s a national problem that we have, trying to keep our town centres thriving and stop them from becoming run down.
That’s why I very much welcome the government’s new High Street Strategy to transform town centres into vibrant places to live, work and visit. Councils like Crawley will be given powers to transform town centres, such as taking over derelict buildings through compulsory purchase orders so they can be converted into new homes if property owners stall on regeneration plans.
Councils will also be encouraged to use existing powers to convert empty offices into housing, and empty shops can be transformed into entertainment venues or thriving new businesses without the need for planning permission.
A new taskforce will work to eradicate unsightly chewing gum from the streets, with gum producers investing £10 million over the next 5 years to help councils to clean up gum and support schemes to prevent people from littering. Councils will be encouraged to take a more hands-on approach to cleaning up graffiti, supported by £2 million in funding.
There will be a UK-wide, annual National High Streets Day to promote our High Streets and supporting cleaner more cared-for streets. I also welcome that hospitality will be given a boost with the streamlined pavement licensing system extended for 12 months so more shops, cafes and restaurants can make use of outdoor areas.
The intention is to make this permanent. Crawley’s town centre can have a brighter future although we also need new local leadership that will be tougher on anti-social behaviour.