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COVID-19 and Economic Geographies

On 10th March, IPM hosted a webinar exploring the longer-term consequences, trends and varying impact in the 12 months since the first lockdown restrictions were introduced. IPM co-chair Cathy Parker opened by briefly reflecting on the past year in economic terms, noting that £271 billion has been spent in mitigating the economic impact of the virus, a figure almost 10 times the £30 billion originally outlined in Rishi Sunak’s first budget as Chancellor.

During the first session, Cathy hosted a discussion between economists Mark Gregory (Chief Economist, EY and Director of Centre for Towns) and Christian Spence (Fellow of IPM at Manchester Metropolitan University) to outline the budget announcements and the relevance to place. Both speakers highlighted positives which had emerged from the budget, with Christian emphasising how the successful vaccine rollout has had a positive outcome on the economy and noting the announcements of updates to various funds for places and high streets. It was however noted that funding alone is not a long-term solution for levelling up, especially given the competitive nature and often arduous application processes involved. Mark outlined his view that, given the larger amounts of money in this budget, the short-term support to the economy is now at the level needed to support places of different scales.

Following on, both economists identified a range of challenges and shortfalls in the budget, with Mark noting the lack of a long-term plan and a lack of vision for places. He continued by outlining the tighter public spending which sits behind the various support funds and which could have a negative impact on local service provisions. Mark also noted a lack of strategy to deal with the climate emergency, public finance and tax for online traders, all of which are important to place. Christian went on to note shortfalls in the industrial strategy with regard to place and stated his view that recent announcements had taken us backwards by 2-3 years, with LEPs, Local Authorities and BIDs once again having to reassess their approaches. Christian also echoed Mark’s concern about the public finance forecasts, highlighting the greater need for support to the health and education sectors in the wake of the pandemic.

IPM Senior Fellow Diane Wehrle (Springboard) updated on recent footfall and subsequent trends and differences in town types, noting that although all places have seen huge reductions in footfall, smaller towns and high street have been much more resilient than larger cities. Diane emphasised that the reduction in footfall has been much less in this lockdown than during the first, with generally much more activity in centres. In addition, Diane made a forecast for post-lockdown footfall based on data from previous reopenings and outlined that she expects to see a large uplift in footfall due to non-essential retail and hospitality reopening at the same time, as well as shoppers feeling safer and also being subject to lockdown fatigue.

IPM member Kay Buxton (Paddington Partnership), offered a perspective of the impact of COVID-19 on a local scale and began by discussing the importance of data in understanding the strengths, weaknesses and resilience of a BID Area. Highlighting the challenges around the significant reduction in commuter numbers and international tourism, both of which normally input into the local economy, Kay drew upon her experience as a BID executive in Marble Arch and Paddington. Kay also noted that the hospitality sector, particularly food and beverage, has been much more agile in dealing with the challenges that the pandemic has posed and highlighted the success of alfresco dining in her BID area, with many businesses effectively utilising outdoor and green space right into December.

Neil Wild (Wild Property Consultancy), an IPM member, concluded matters by discussing trends and the impact of the pandemic on supply and demand in the property sector and outlined the national and local factors which are currently affecting the supply and demand of property. Neil discussed both permitted development changes and business rates at the national level, although stated the importance of local place-based strategies in attracting investors and property developers. Neil went on to discuss the recent trends and changes in demand for various types of property and businesses, noting the upsurge in demand for small units with locally rooted and food-based businesses increasing in popularity. Neil concluded his presentation by discussing a current project he is supporting in Oxfordshire to help utilise vacant space.

See the video below to watch the full event and discussion.

IPM delivered regular CPD events to its members, the next CPD event will be announced shortly.


About the author


Formed in 2006, the Institute of Place Management is the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better.

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