Senior councillors have given their backing to a recovery plan for Monmouthshire’s town centres which will aim to transform them into ‘destinations’ for visitors.
The plans aim to reduce the amount of traffic in town centres to cut carbon emissions, creating “much safer and friendlier destinations.”
Following the easing of lockdown, the council will be encouraging more people to shop locally and hopes to create a “café culture” on the High Street.
The strategy, approved by the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, also looks at more immediate measures which will be introduced to ensure people feel safe to return to town centres as lockdown measures are eased, such as maintaining a social distance of two metres.
Councillor Bob Greenland, cabinet member for innovation, enterprise and leisure, said the plan envisages “a better future” for town centres.
“Can we make them not just somewhere that people will come and shop?” he said.
“Can we make our town centres destinations in themselves, so that people will come to meet each other in a safe and a pleasant environment, quite different I think from what we have got at the moment?”
Depending on lockdown guidelines, the council plans to help businesses re-open safely and legally within social distancing rules in June and July.
Temporary changes to start the transformation of town centres could then begin on a trial basis from August to Christmas.
These could include creating more pedestrian friendly High Streets with more cycle lanes and shared spaces.
Businesses could be supported with changes to how they trade – such as allowing tables, chairs, displays and signage outside.
Speed limits could be reduced, one-way systems introduced and empty spaces brought back into use through measures such as compulsory purchase orders.
A council report says the authority was already considering changes prior to the coronavirus outbreak, proposing “a much more pleasurable experience for pedestrians and cyclists alike, creating environments where the car is no longer king and enabling town centres to become much safer and friendlier destinations.”
And the report says changes to lifestyles as a result of lockdown could result in more people shopping locally.
“There is a school of thought that High Streets will be re-energised as residents who are continuing to work more from home shop more locally, a renewed sense of place and belonging spilling over from the support generated as a result of the ‘lockdown local’ mentality and the re-invigoration of the High Street as a destination as cafés, restaurants and pubs open their outdoor space and embrace café culture,” it says.
Cllr Jane Pratt said more people choosing to work from home in the future will see them look to local shops, while Independent councillor Frances Taylor said encouraging more people to walk and cycle would be key to the strategy’s success.