Public health will dominate the agenda in 2021 as Chesterfield looks to recover financially from the pandemic.
That was the message from Chief Executive of the Association of Town & City Management, Ojay McDonald, who headlined the fourth annual Chesterfield Investment Summit held on Wednesday 25 November.
Speaking at the virtual event which was organised by Destination Chesterfield, Mr McDonald said: “Public health will absolutely dominate the debate and will dictate how our town centres evolve going forward. We need to see town centres as ultra safe zones. People want safe, regulated spaces where they can meet, greet and network.”
He stressed that, despite the imminent vaccine, no-one knows whether the current town centre issues caused by the pandemic are short or long-term.
Mr McDonald did, however, highlight opportunities for the town centre brought about by the increase in home working. “Town centres can look to Paris in France for inspiration and its 15-minute city plan which has everything you need within a 15-minute radius on foot or bike.”
As well as addressing the challenges facing the high street and its long-term survival, the summit also outlined how the town plans to capitalise on the office and rail opportunities that are projected to emerge post Covid.
Office expert Darren Mansfield, Partner at Global Real Estate Consultants Knight Frank, who also spoke at the summit, agreed that while home working would continue demand for high quality office space locally was also forecast to increase.
He explained: “Employee fatigue and deficiencies in data protection have all emerged from working from home, therefore it is not a long term option. Instead, a hybrid model of home and office working is at the heart of the workspace strategy of the future. Offices will become showcases that are the centre of innovation, education and employee wellbeing.”
Rather than having a single large office, Mr Mansfield said that businesses will want to spread risk. As a consequence, large businesses will look to regional markets like Chesterfield, which is well positioned to capitalise on the increased demand for quality office space, with new developments at Chesterfield Waterside and Northern Gateway as well as having excellent road links and mainline rail connectivity.
At the summit, Chesterfield’s SMEs operating in the rail sector were identified as having a critical role to play in the ‘Building Back Better’ 2030 agenda.
Speaking at the summit Elaine Clark, Chief Executive of the Rail Forum Midlands, urged SMEs in the town to collaborate and work better together to capitalise on the opportunities available now in the rail sector.
“HS2 construction is well underway and there are opportunities now. There is a lot of expertise in the area but Chesterfield cannot be complacent and rely on its rail heritage. Local companies are well-placed to support future investment however they must collaborate with each other in order to compete with large companies on the continent.”
Capitalising on the forthcoming HS2 stop in the town, Chesterfield Borough Council has recently taken a part freehold, part leasehold interest in the former Chesterfield Hotel site. The site, which has been vacant for a number of years, has been identified as a key development opportunity in the emerging HS2 Station Masterplan, which aims to harness the opportunities presented by HS2 and revitalise the area around Chesterfield.
In addition to rail, the office sector has also been identified as a strategic priority for Chesterfield Borough Council. Speaking at the Summit, Huw Bowen, Chief Executive of Chesterfield Borough Council referenced the council’s commitment to funding both the new town centre Enterprise Centre and the new seven-story office block at Chesterfield Waterside. He said that it was ‘absolutely the right thing to do’ to make these investments at the height of the pandemic when sadly too many Chesterfeld residents were losing their jobs.
The new Enterprise Centre, once complete, will support up to 32 new start-up businesses providing not only technology enabled space but also on-site business advisers to support the town’s entrepreneurs to develop their ideas and establish great businesses for the future.