The steady return of shoppers, that hustle and bustle which was taken for granted until Covid struck, marks another milestone on the long and slow road back to normality.
Equally, there will be glaring gaps as some shops and retail institutions – John Lewis’s stores in Sheffield and York being a prime example – remain shut for good. As such, it’s clear that the retail revolution that was gathering pace before Covid, as households switched to online orders, has accelerated even more rapidly in the past 12 months.
Even as recently as last June, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, told The Yorkshire Post during a walkabout on Northallerton’s market day that he did not fully accept the argument for further reform to business rates. Fast forward nearly a year and that policy position is unsustainable despite Mr Sunak using his most recent Budget to extend the business rates holiday by another three months.
Yet, while this is welcomed by those independent stores fighting for their survival and rightly, has not been exploited by many of the major supermarkets whose turnover has increased significantly as a by-product of the lockdown, there needs to be a more pressing debate on how to sustain towns in the short, medium and long-term.
That has to include business rates and this more fundamental discussion: what should the high street look like in the future and how can this be best achieved? Such a debate needs to start now.
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