Town centre businesses are like a “coiled spring, ready to bounce back” once the coronavirus crisis is over, according to a leading councillor.
Bedford Borough Council is working with businesses and organisations on putting together a town centre recovery plan, and the councillor heading up the effort wants more firms to get involved.
Cllr Henry Vann, the council’s elected head of town centres and planning, took part in an online meeting of the Town Deal Board on Monday.
Town Deal Board meetings are not open to the public and their main focus is on putting together a bid for up to £25 million of Government cash. But this week they received an update on plans for the recovery from COVID-19.
Cllr Vann said, “I have been really impressed by the businesses in Bedford, and the fact that 62 per cent of them are independents means they will be better placed to bounce back.
“Not only have they stepped up to support health and other workers, but they have been responsible, innovative, and fleet of foot.
“It is very promising in terms of the recovery. They are like a coiled spring, with a huge amount of energy.”
Cllr Vann said the council is working on communicating with businesses in the town, to both listen to their concerns, and to get the latest information out.
He appealed for companies to apply for Government grants of £10,000 for business ratepayers in receipt of small business or rural rate relief, and up to £25,000 for eligible retail, leisure and hospitality ratepayers.
“It’s free money and it is ever so easy to apply for online,” said Cllr Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys). “All the businesses need is their rates reference number.”
Even though the council has already sent out more than £17 million to more than 1,500 local businesses, hundreds more have yet to apply.
“Some people do not know about it and I think there have been some mixed messages,” said Cllr Vann. “Anything that can be done to get the message out so we can get the help to businesses is appreciated.”
The council is preparing a brand new Town Centre Plan for publication in June.
And in a decision made on 22 April, the town’s mayor, Dave Hodgson, formally accepted a grant of up to £1.76 million from the Historic England High Streets Heritage Action Zone.
The council was one of the winners of a contest held last year intended to improve economic viability of the High Street and wider town centre. The project has a total budget of £5.83 million.
Cllr Vann said: “We welcome Historic England’s ongoing commitment to supporting town centres and will be continuing to work to support our high street through their High Street Heritage Action Zone funding.”
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter