BOLTON Council deputy leader Martyn Cox says the local authority is doing all it can to tempt people back to high street.

Following lockdown, the council has invested in an effort to boost trade with measures including town centre information officers in every district, developing a rewards scheme, new social distancing signage, hand sanitiser stations and a marketing campaign.

But despite these innovations, Cllr Cox believes it will still be difficult for independent shops to prosper post-covid-19.

“Anyone who knows anything about town centres or retail is worried not only for independent stores but chain stores as well,” he said.

“The trend that was clear before lockdown has just accelerated since and increasingly people are doing their shopping online.”

With 82% of us now shopping on-line, up from just 53% 10 years ago, the UK has become the country with the highest percentage of ecommerce sales. The younger generation especially seem to be more inclined to avoid the high street altogether – 18% of 25-34 year olds do all of their shopping online.

“Town centres began as densely populated parts of the town around the civic centre,” said Cllr Cox. “They acquired shops because so many people live there and they will only work in the future if people continue to patronise them.

“Bolton is not quinque in this: Next is probably one of the most successful retailers in the UK but they are talking about significantly reducing their footprint across the UK and expanding their warehouse and distribution networks. That trend has been accelerated by the current crisis and it’s making it extremely difficult for independent retailers to survive.”

A key factor in the high street’s future seems to be a commitment to getting more people to live in the town centre.

“There are huge plans to increase the amount of people living in the town centre,” added Cllr Cox. “That will provide a demand and we are not planning for a retail free town centre.

“Retail will play a part but that is changing.”