IHBC’s COVID-19 signpost 68: A Framework for post-COVID-19 recovery for towns and cities

The Institute of Place Management (IPM) has produced its Post-COVID 19 Recovery Framework.

The Institute of Place Management writes:

Each passing day we are witnessing the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 on the heart of our cities and towns, as the boundless pandemic is altering – and potentially displacing – their social and economic role. In the UK, as in other countries, the implementation of strict public health measures means that the majority of service-based and non-food retail, hospitality and leisure business premises remain closed to reduce social contact (MHCLG, 2020). Footfall, a key metric in the management of town centres and other commercial areas, has declined since the lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March. Yesterday (31st of March) footfall was down 81.4% compared to the same period last year (Springboard, 2020). The relatively short period of disruption has already triggered the first wave of store closures (Laura Ashley, BrightHouse, Carluccio’s), impacting first on the most vulnerable businesses, whose position was fragile even before COVID-19.

However, the scale of the pandemic and the unprecedented public health response will mean much more disturbance is yet to come.  Macroeconomic estimates suggest that the economic shock of COVID-19 will be around 10% of global GDP. This is five times more than the credit and liquidity problems that caused the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Milne, 2020). A massive number of bankruptcies will likely follow, which will put at risk many jobs and have a significant impact on the attractiveness of many of our towns and cities. Not only will their offer be reduced as less businesses come back to our town centres, post-COVID-19 – but there may be less demand for these businesses in the future. Prolonged lockdown can fundamentally change consumer behaviour, as people become dependent on having products delivered to their home. A survey by analyst Retail Economics of 2,000 consumers, quoted in The Guardian, found that two-thirds of shoppers said they had switched to purchasing products online that they have always previously purchased in-store (Inman, 2020). But the increasingly multifunctional town/city is not only at risk of being obsolescent to shoppers. People used to exercise in their front room, may not go back to the gym; employees who like working from home may not return to the office; friends accustomed to socialising online may no longer pop down the pub.

And, it is not just the everyday functions of towns that will be affected. The impact of travel bans is already evident in many tourist and holiday destinations, and, looking ahead to the future, it is likely that many plans for transformation will be put on hold, as funding (public and private) is needed now for surviving the crisis…..

In order to assist place managers who are responsible with the gargantuan task of supporting their cities and towns through this pandemic, we have developed a COVID-19 framework….

The framework consists of four stages, which are briefly described below:

CRISIS (Acting right now)

This first stage is where most towns and cities around the world are now, and will be, for the foreseeable future. With lockdowns and closures of all business premises apart from essential retail, and with the majority of the population working or learning from home, town centres are currently deserted. National crisis management measures are now in place, in the UK, for most businesses, including: a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-employment Income Support Scheme; a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses; small business grant funding of £10,000; retail, hospitality and leisure business grant funding of £25,000; and a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (GOV.UK, 2020). Around the world, similar support is being offered. Local place management authorities are coordinating many of these schemes, paying out grants and loans, for example. Other place management organisations, such as Business Improvement Districts, are not sitting idle, they are taking action, providing advice and support to businesses, helping them understand the rules and, in many cases, helping them apply for support. Local authorities, businesses, BIDs, community groups and partnerships are all coming together, in different permutations, to coordinate emergency support, such as ensuring isolating individuals and families have access to food and medical supplies.

Equally, analysing data and information in crisis, even when seemingly no activity is taking place is still important…..

At the town centre level, data is also important. Footfall is an important baseline for recovery. Likewise, other data, such as having accurate information on the type of businesses in the town can help to guide the type of support that is needed in this crisis stage and model what the likely impact will be of various lockdown scenarios (3 weeks or 3 months etc.). Some towns will just be more resilient than others. It is unlikely that businesses that do not have, at least, some online presence and way to communicate with customers can survive…..

PRE-RECOVERY (Building capacity for recovery and transformation)

It is important that place managers and leaders, as well as dealing with the current crisis, start planning for recovery. We have called this stage ‘pre-recovery’ and it is a crucial step towards building collective capacity and moving towards more reflexive forms of place governance and coordinated leadership. These include models of follower-dominant leadership styles (Collinge and Gibney, 2010) that embrace the variety of roles that people espouse in their towns, and an appreciation of self-management and self-organisation strategies. Put simply, we need to work together now on good ideas and plans to encourage people back to our high streets – recovery will depend on building more local capacity for action and effective mechanisms for coordinating this (Ntounis, 2018).

Such programmes of action need to be supplemented by knowledge exchange initiatives and support, such as the Vital & Viable neighbourhood centres programme that advocates a collective learning experience via a model of engaged scholarship (Ntounis and Parker, 2017), and relevant training that will support future place management decision-making, such as interpreting dashboard data and information and prioritising place interventions by using tested high street models such as the IPM’s Top 25 Priorities for vitality and viability…..

In conclusion, this post provides a brief outline of the framework for town centre recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We endeavour to provide more detailed information, backed up with evidence from previous crises, for each stage in future post(s). We hope that this Framework will help place managers and other relevant audiences to not only start acting immediately towards combating the crisis, but also to develop a coordinated and systematic approach to the management of its recovery and improvement. These are times where strong governance, place leadership, community vigilance and participation, and wise use of data and technologies are needed (Djalante et al, 2020), as well as the support of professional place managers (High Streets UK 2020; Achieving Change) in order for towns and cities to survive. Rest assured, as the professional body for place managers and leaders, we will support all our members in this important endeavour.

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