I was very pleased to be asked by Brentwood Borough Council to write a letter of support for its application to the Future High Streets Fund, a £675 million pot of money to help local areas modernise their high streets and town centres.
Brentwood High Street had a considerable amount of money spent on it some time ago but shopping habits are changing and although it is lovely to have a variety of eating establishments and a thriving night life in the town, many sectors of our community are missing out. When I am canvassing opinion on the doorsteps of Brentwood and Ongar, there is a steady number of people calling for more leisure activities for young people, be it a cinema, bowling or indoor play areas.
Brentwood Borough Council’s Future High Street Fund application takes these ideas into account but goes further too and the desire to improve and support our High Street shops and businesses is clear.
High streets have long been a place to bring communities together, a place for local people to access vital services and a place for businesses to thrive. But, the Government recognises that it is becoming harder for businesses on high streets across the country to compete with out-of-town shopping centres and online retailers.
Brentwood High Street is our largest High Street, But Ingatestone, Shenfield and Ongar have their needs too. All three have been affected by the decision by High Street banks to close due to more of us using online banking these days – and there are too many empty premises in Ongar at the moment for such a small town.
That said, Ongar has an excellent cheese shop and a butchers, there is 24 hour shopping availability to rival some of the busiest parts of London, and its historic motte and bailey castle site and the Epping Ongar Railway are great reasons for tourists to visit. I’d like to hear from Ongar people who have ideas for the town so I can work out what I might be able to do to help move things along.