A LEADING Conservative councillor has waded into the long-running debate around Evesham town centre by claiming it has a ‘bright future’.
While he acknowledged the pandemic had amplified the rate of change on the High Street, Coun Peter Griffiths backed the town to emerge stronger as a result.
The Evesham North councillor on Wychavon District Council made the comments in response to a fierce online debate over the town and the reportedly imminent closure of stores such as Aldi on Swan Lane.
“There is no doubt that the face of retail in town centres has changed for ever – even when compared to the recent history of going back just a couple of years,” Coun Griffiths said.
“Town centres are dynamic places and change, twist and turn as fashions and technology alter the demand for the goods and services we all need, this has always been the case. The pandemic has probably accelerated town centre change by as much as 10 years over the past 12 months.
“Well before the pandemic we were talking about and predicting retail decline because of internet shopping and before that the impact of out-of-town retail.
“We were already predicting that High Streets across the country would become populated by such retail activities that cannot be internet based, such as hairdressers, coffee shops nail bars, specialist food retail, niche market clothing and other specialist independent businesses.
“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on this and amplified the rate of change. It has also made us realise the importance of local independent businesses,” he added.
Coun Griffiths, who is standing for the Conservatives in Evesham North West in May’s County Council elections, said other activities such as tourism and the night-time economy will grow to fill the voids left by traditional high street retail.
“All of this will benefit Evesham, bringing people back into the town centre to live, it will strengthen the community and it will create business for the shops to thrive upon,” he said.
Coun Griffiths highlighted the plans to create a cutting-edge visitor attraction depicting the ‘Story of Evesham’ and its Medieval past using the latest interactive technology and to turn the Public Hall into a centre for the arts.
“There are ambitious plans for re-landscaping the children’s water play area, and for developing a water sports facility by Avon lock,” he said.
“I have noticed work being undertaken on empty shops in readiness for new occupiers. Cafes, pubs and restaurants are already embracing outdoor seating and a continental style café culture. This is all exciting and provides a backdrop for the new style vision of a people friendly town.
“Importantly, a new Town Centre prospectus is being prepared after an extensive public consultation. When completed this should attract inward investment and open up opportunities for existing and new traders alike and shine a new light on our already picturesque town and river frontage.
“Yes, indeed the town centre will survive, and it will thrive as it confidently strides towards the future, just as it always has done in the past,” Coun Griffiths added.
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