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Build back better – but locally

  • by JW

“The need to go from retail to services as providing the future vitality of the town centre.”

“Green space has never been more valued and should be an essential part of any town centre plan and design brief.”


There are several campaigns pushing for things to be ‘better’:

Build Back Better – We Mean Business coalition

Build Back Better: The UK Coronavirus Recovery Campaign


And there are several interpretations of what it means:

Conversations on building back better: Week 7 of TED2020 | TED Blog

What does ‘build back better’ really mean? One of the world’s top CEOs give us his take | | UN News

Boris Johnson’s plan to ‘build back better’ is an attack on democracy | openDemocracy

‘Build back better’ is a socialist trap for Boris, not a route to prosperity | (paywall)

The Boris Johnson plan is far from conservative | Financial Times (paywall?)

To ‘Build Back Better,’ We Must Ditch Public Financing of Fossil Fuels | Common Dreams Views

Webinar on building back better | Express & Star

Don’t waste the post-Covid opportunity to build back better |


However, what most of these don’t address is how ‘building better’ would translate locally.


There are several good ‘vision’ documents which seek to look to a  better future for towns and cities, for example:

A Vision for Paisley town centre 2030 – Renfrewshire Website


But an excellent report which came out a week ago looks at the overall picture for localities:

Grimsey Review COVID-19 Supplement Report: Build Back Better | Resources | High Street Task Force


With a few more details here:



Here’s a personal view from a correspondent:


Yes, it has to be local – and ideally with central government support. The only problem being that this govt, like pretty much every other, is clearly not keen on letting go, whether on planning or tackling the current crisis.

So, I think we just have to do what we can – locally.

To summarise the Grimsey report: retail has changed and our high streets will have to adapt.

As far as Sidmouth is concerned, there is a basis for action in the community actions of the ‘economic resilience’ part of the Neighbourhood Plan:

Under A RADICAL SHIFT IN PLANNING POLICY on page 25 Grimsey focusses on key areas:

– We’d have to hope that his Planning policy and delivery ideas will accord with those coming out of central govt on ‘relaxing’ planning laws.

– On the other hand, he states that Green space has never been more valued and should be an essential part of any town centre plan and design brief – which is something we can affect here in Sidmouth; and I’d really hope that the STC’s environment cttee and the biodiversity group, with all their partners, can help to ‘green up’ the town centre.

There are all sorts of other good ideas which don’t need reliance on central govt changing the tax regime etc, such as community trusts and a community hub.

Primarily, though, Grimsey talks about the need to go from retail to services as providing the future vitality of the town centre.

Interestingly, his section IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE NEED TO CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT on p44 tells us that ‘shopping’ has changed since the coronavirus crisis – but it’s not just that we’re doing more shopping on-line which is bad for the high street, but that we’ve come to value shopping locally which is surely good for the Sidmouth high street(s), where there are few ‘big brands’ and more independents. This study matches the VGS/STC environment cttee survey from early May which showed real attachment to local shops.

And as he says at The impact of COVID-19 on the technological transformation of towns on page 68: Sidmouth needs to get savvy with apps, on-line booking and just being connected; especially as urbanites attracted to the quieter rural life post-Covid start moving to the Sid Valley…

Finally, Sidmouth will have to provide both the old and the new. It should continue to make use of the old story of Sidmouth having been built as a destination for the ‘discerning visitor’, attracting the quieter, older tourist for the past two centuries, and I don’t think that’s a problem. On the other hand, the likes of Jurassic Paddles can of course cater for the younger age-group; it feels a very ‘Sidmouth business’, and yet it’s not a retail business and no doubt relies on its web presence for marketing.

Welcome to the future!


photo: File:Sidmouth sea-front – – 60642.jpg – Wikimedia Commons