- Welcome Back Fund
The LBB Place Shaping and Local Economy Manager provided an update on Town Centres and Business Support.
Members were reminded that the Local Authority had been allocated a further £295k from the ‘Welcome Back Fund’, for use in welcoming customers back to the high streets. Over the summer a programme of business advice was offered; pop-up parklets provided in Orpington, Beckenham and Penge; and artificial grass had been installed in Bromley town centre. Discussions would shortly be taking place with partners regarding winter planting and events in town centres.
The LBB Place Shaping and Local Economy Manager informed Members that the ‘Start-Up Bromley’ programme had been launched, providing support to start-up businesses and entrepreneurs. As part of this scheme, business lounge facilities were available in Bromley Central Library, Orpington Library and more recently, Biggin Hill Library. These provided dedicated space which could be used for training, networking and showcase events.
It was noted that the Local Authority had been successful in its ‘High Streets for All’ funding bid, the first stage of which would see £20k used to support the provision of high-quality cultural programming in Bromley town centre. A bid had been submitted for the second stage, for between £100-200k, to increase the number of cultural activities and was linked to the amphitheatre and Churchill Gardens. Members would be advised of the outcome of this bid, which would be announced in December 2021. If successful, the funding would need to be spent by March 2023.
(ACTION: LBB Place Shaping and Local Economy Manager / Clerk)
The Bromley Business Hub website had recently been launched – https://www.bromleybusinesshub.org/ – which publicised support, advice and training. Members were advised that the website included a recruitment database and calendar of events, which partners could add to by contacting the Business Support Team. Lee Thomas, Fairlight Group, considered that the Hubs could be used to disseminate further information regarding the rollout of ultrafast Full Fibre broadband.
Mark Haynes, The Glades, advised Members that the shopping centre would shortly be celebrating its 30th birthday. It was highlighted that the last couple of years had been tough for retail businesses, and both Debenhams and The Disney Store had recently closed their units in the shopping centre. It was highlighted that the majority of companies that had closed stores had done so because of their stance or current situation, rather than there being an issue specifically in Bromley. There had been several new stores that had opened during the last 18-month, including Crew Clothing Company and Ted Baker. A new burger restaurant, Marlowe’s, had also opened and leases would shortly be completed for three further restaurants, which it was hoped would be open before the end of the year. There was also interest from both food and non-food operators for some of the other vacant units, and some existing occupiers were looking to take more space within the shopping centre.
The shopping centre would be looking to use vacant units for a “local showcase”. Businesses, who mainly operated online, would be provided with support to open pop-up shops in the units for periods of between six weeks and six months. This would showcase both local business and artists, who would produce window displays. It was considered that this was helping increase footfall as, when compared to 2019, footfall for eleven of the last twelve weeks had been positive. Mr Haynes said that things had been tough, but not as bad as they could have been, and there were positive things on the horizon.
Sharon Baldwin, Orpington 1st BID Company informed Members that footfall in the town centre was up to 80% of the figures being seen pre-pandemic, and the dwell times in the car parks had been increasing over the last few weeks. It was noted that businesses were experiencing real problems with staffing, particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors.
Vacancy rates in the town centre were decreasing, and following its departure, Peacocks had reopened on Orpington High Street in August. Of the units that had been vacant long-term, the lease for one would be signed shortly, and five smaller units would be made into one large unit for use by Getir, the grocery delivery company.
Members were advised that a final consultation event on proposals for the regeneration of the Walnuts Shopping Centre would be held on Thursday 21st October 2021, prior to a planning application being submitted. It was emphasised that this development would have a major effect on the rest of the high street. With regards to meanwhile space, work was being undertaken to look at how this could best be utilised. Five units within the Walnuts Shopping Centre were currently being worked on to facilitate community projects and showcase them in a different way.
The annual Flavours of Orpington Food Festival had taken place in September 2021, and restaurants had indicated an increase in bookings of up to 30%. The event had ended on the Sunday with a community BBQ attended up 600 people. Over the summer, Orpington had entered the annual London in Bloom competition. This year the business community had been award a gold medal and first place in the Business Improvement District (BID) category, which highlighted the partnership work undertaken.
RESOLVED that the Town Centres and Business Support update be noted.