BARNSLEY town centre is in an ‘excellent position’ to bounce back from the knock-on impact caused by the pandemic, a report into its future has claimed.
Compiled by design consultancy Urbed, the report - discussed by senior councillors this week - delved into historical issues and current trends related to town centres, and their future.
It concluded that although Covid-19 ‘flipped the script’ for trade in many cities, Barnsley is in a better position to prosper due to its ongoing Glass Works regeneration and plans to build more housing nearby.
Urbed suggest plans should be put in place to ensure void units - currently causing concern on Cheapside given the recent departure announcement from M and S - are turned to alternative uses, either through finding new uses or reconfiguring the town centre in some areas.
According to the council, this may mean ‘being bold and courageous’ and repurposing empty shops and offices for residential, leisure, health and wellbeing or social enterprises.
Leader of Barnsley Council, Sir Steve Houghton, said: “We’ve made significant progress in transforming Barnsley town centre over the last ten years, creating new employment, and driving economic growth.
“The twin challenges of a drastically changing high street and global pandemic have tested every town and city centre across the UK, but Barnsley has withstood the challenge well.
“This gives us an ambitious way forward - there are some tremendously exciting suggestions in the strategy, with many already underway, and it gives us something to aspire to when funding and investment opportunities are available.
“If we stand still, the borough’s economy will stand still, so we will continue to seek investment opportunities to make Barnsley a place of possibilities, where people want to live, shop, work, and socialise.”
The report adds that Barnsley, like all cities and towns post-pandemic, will need to be less dependent on retail and introduce more and diverse cultural assets, additional housing, civic services, events space and workspaces.
Plans are already afoot for an ‘urban village’ on County Way in the town centre, set to rapidly pick up pace due to tight deadlines which require funding to be spent in just two years.
According to documents, the next stages of the scheme include energy-efficient housing, public realm improvements and a 376-space multi-storey car park following previous periods of public consultation.
The report added: “Barnsley is now in a really interesting position - like many medium-sized towns in the UK it has been better equipped to weather the storm, partially due to not having city centre-style assets to lose in the first place.
“It is in many ways a practical town centre, serving the needs of residents as much as visitors or commuters.
“Because of this Barnsley is in an excellent position to respond to the emerging trends following the pandemic.
“It may need to rethink its relationship with retail, reducing its floorspace by up to a third, but it is well-placed to plug the gaps left behind.
“Barnsley can provide family houses in town centre neighbourhoods, with outdoor space and access to independent shops, cafes, restaurants and culture.
“People want to work more flexibly, working from home sometimes and using office facilities when they need to and the town centre can provide great walkable and cyclable streets, access to green spaces and a network of local businesses and facilities.
“This new way of life is not just advantageous for Barnsley’s recovery, it is also inherently sustainable and can support zero carbon ambitions.”