Business leaders around the North West have welcomed the latest stage in easing the lockdown which sees all non-essential retail reopen from April 12, along with gym and outdoor bars and restaurants for table service.
Andrew Ruffler, CEO of Professional Liverpool, said: “It’s step two on the road map out of lockdown but feels like the biggest date yet and a huge morale boost for city centres and the High Street in general. The ONS data reveals the overall impact – with 2020 showing the largest fall in retail spending on record, while hospitality has obviously suffered greatly. Online sales have done well in the period – rising to a record high of 33.9% as a share of all retail spending ¬– but we are social beings and we do want to be out and about. The sector has at least had time to adapt – I know Liverpool ONE has doubled the outdoor dining spaces to over 1200 and 12 new brands have invested in the last year despite the pandemic. Clearly, there’s a hope that people will still respect the social distancing rules when shopping that will keep us all safe and protect the NHS. Liverpool is a cultural city and, on balance, there’s still probably some frustration that museums across England have to wait until 17 May to reopen.”
Neil Sturmey, a tax partner at Grant Thornton in the North West, said: “It’s been the longest winter for High Street retailers and the hospitality sector and both are overdue some good news. That is coming – most of us are desperate to go out again and many businesses are hoping that we are heading for a golden summer. Everyone has been locked in for months and large swathes of the economy will be able to afford to enjoy the experience – they are still in work, and have not been spending.
“Longer term, things are going to be different. If we fast forward even further to 2022, it’s still hard to picture Friday nights with customers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in busy pubs. We expect to see new concepts in the restaurant and hospitality sector emerge. There will be pubs, restaurants, cafes that can’t operate profitably if there is any significant reduction in capacity driven by social distancing or if consumers turn away from crowded venues. New environments may come into play. The space increasingly available on the High Street, in some cases vacated by large retailers such as Debenhams, could be an option. Imagine restaurants which would have previously occupied small venues on a secondary street relocating to larger spaces on main streets, with the level of rent and rates adjusted to the new market realities.”
Regional attractions are also set to reopen on Monday with limited capacity.
Julie Dalton, managing director of Gulliver’s Theme Parks and Resorts, said: “We cannot wait to welcome back visitors to both the theme park and our self-contained accommodation here at Gulliver’s World. As a family business being unable to open our theme parks for much of 2020, it has been very difficult and we are now looking forward to having our customers back in our parks in a safe way as possible.
“We know from coming out of the first lockdown that people will be cautious in their approach to travel and visiting entertainment, but we also know that many are desperate for some normality and to enjoy family fun.
“Our teams are ready to return and we look forward to seeing families enjoying time together on rides and experiencing some Gulliver’s fun soon.”
Nicola Said, commercial director at Marketing Cheshire, said: “As a country, we’ve all been counting down to each milestone of the roadmap out of lockdown, so to finally have 12th April within reach and be able to launch so many amazing new attractions for the region is fantastic.
“Not only are we looking forward to returning to those much-loved places we’ve all missed so much, but we now have a whole host of things to add to our lists.