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Planning for the future

The intimidating heavyweight boxer, Mike Tyson, once famously replied to a reporter who asked whether he was worried about his opponent’s fight plan with the response: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It was his own take on the military adage that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

Well, the local economy has certainly had plenty of contact with the Covid enemy in the last 18 months and many businesses will feel they have metaphorically been punched in the mouth. But that’s no reason for abandoning planning. In fact it’s probably never been more important.

The snag is that so much has changed, some things appear to have changed but might not really, whilst others have remained the same. In other words planning has become much more difficult as there are so many unknowns.

Let me give you an example. If you were devising a broad economic strategy for our area, how would you approach it ? For example, what is the role for the City Centre ? Conventionally that would have meant shopping, offices and attractions drawing in visitors.

However, we have seen a number of big brands announcing they are going online now instead of having a High Street presence. At the moment customers seem content to do their browsing on their phones in the comfort of their own homes. But will that last, or will there be a swing back to the desire to have a day out going round the shops with family and friends, stopping off for a coffee and lunch in a pleasant social gathering ? Could the retailers who stick it out become the long term beneficiaries ?

Likewise, when it comes to offices, a number of big companies have said they don’t expect ever to see all their staff in the office on a regular 9 to 5 basis. That could indicate they can downsize into smaller premises and so demand for offices will decline. On the other hand we’re already seeing examples of people saying they’re desperate to get back into the office, to meet colleagues face to face and to enjoy the pleasure of team working. Younger people in particular have suffered from isolation and depression as they struggle to work on, often in unsuitable conditions. So, it’s possible that before long we could be back to something close to how things were before the pandemic.

So there you have it. We might need more shops, or fewer, greater numbers of offices or nothing like as many as we think. Who’d be a strategic planner now ?


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