High street may never recover from Covid, ministers warn

The public has been told to “use or lose” the high street as ministers admitted that it may never bounce back to its pre-pandemic popularity.

Regional growth minister Luke Hall claimed Covid-19 had been the “largest, most synchronised shot to the economy, our social lives and the high street in living memory”.

According to The Telegraph, around 5000 shops have closed since the start of the pandemic.

Although lockdown restrictions are expected to end on July 19, some experts believe online shopping and home-working will continue to devastate town centres.

READ MOREHigh street could ‘collapse’ over summer, Usdaw warns

“There has been a significant drop in footfall since the start of the pandemic and unfortunately a rise in vacancy rates,” Hall told the communities select committee.

“The reality is we don’t yet know if footfall will recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“There’s a number of factors which will affect and determine it, like the confidence to just go back and start shopping again on the high street and changing working habits.”

His comments were echoed by small business minister Paul Scully, who argued local shops would suffer if people stayed away from the office.

“Don’t expect that if you’re not going to come into your workplace, that towns and cities will look the same,” he said.

“If we value [the high street], we’ve got to use it.”

He added there was “only so much” the government could do to encourage staff back to town centres.

Plunging revenues have stopped many high street retailers paying commercial rents since the start of lockdown.

Scully complained of “some bad tenants” over the past year who had cash available but had not paid their landlords.

“There are some tenants that could have paid and should have paid,” he claimed.

Under government rules announced “in the nick of time”, property owners cannot evict commercial tenants for failing to pay rent until March 2022.

However, this does not cover debts incurred while shops were able to trade.

Finance

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