City council leader Steve Brady says Hull’s struggling city centre will bounce back but only with government support.
Sweeping changes in retail trends and the impact of a series of lockdowns during the coronaviris pandemic have created huge uncertainty over the area’s immediate future.
Traditional retail names such as Debenhams, Burton, Topshop and Miss Selfridge are set to move online after recent buy-outs leaving a cluster of empty buildings behind.
There is also no guarantee that shoppers or office workers will return in the same numbers as before with continued social-distancing rules likely to be in place for some months ahead.
To sign up for the Hull Live newsletter, click here.
Speaking at a council scrutiny meeting, Councillor Brady said Hull was facing the same problems as every other large city centre in the country.
He said encouraging small independent retailers to set up new businesses was probably the way forward.
“I do think the smaller bespoke shops are the ones who are likely to pick up the mantle but they will only be able to do that with a different kind of support from the government because they can’t afford to let city centres die.
“We are all guilty of going online and you can understand why because it’s the only way some people have been able to shop over the last year.
“However, I do believe that once people are freed up and life gets back to normal, there is one thing for sure will happen. People do like going in shops and seeing what the quality is, not just looking on an internet page.
“I think that physical contact and being able to go out and relax, have a meal and a coffee., it’s all going to mean people going back into the city centre.”
Cllr Brady said government tax relief schemes were needed to encourage small business start-ups willing to take a risk in a post-Covid world.
Mark Jones, the council’s regeneration director, described the recently collapsed national retail chains as “walking zombies” because of the high levels of historic debt they carried.
“All that Covid has done has accelerated the inevitable, aided and abetted by the shift to online.
“However, we are very confident that people will want an experience of city centres and whether that is independent retail, leisure or hospitality, it’s about enabling that mix.”
Mr Jones acknowledged there would be more empty shops in the city centre over the next few months.
“Yes, there will be some broken teeth in the city centre in terms of absent businesses but it’s about how you go about replacing them with a dynamic and animated place.
“For me, that means bringing in regional businesses and independent local businesses and creating that dynamic which isn’t as heavily indebted as the retail world has been in the past.”