The town centre is a great asset to Emsworth life and has its own special character. It is however under threat and must continue to evolve and adapt to meet today’s challenges such as out-of-town and on-line shopping; and the proliferation of chain stores and non-retail uses. The Neighbourhood Plan includes numerous policy prescriptions while identifying a list of projects to be taken forward. Few of these projects will be delivered by the natural operation of market forces without external intervention and the CLT is playing its part.
The Covid-19 pandemic provoked a concerted emergency response involving many community volunteers, but serious damage was suffered by some enterprises. Fluctuating social distancing restrictions continue to impact ‘business as usual’ and are likely to be with us for some time while the increase in homeworking has sharpened focus on local services and may prove permanent. There is evidence that the local economy is benefitting from better awareness of what is available and newly- forged bonds of customer loyalty.
The evolution of the town centre now includes a recovery dimension and has an ever more urgent character. Havant Borough Council, in common with local authorities all over the country, has been hard hit by the pandemic and its resources are stretched. Emsworth was already a low priority for public investment and the prospects are now even weaker for both funding and officer time.
To make headway the Emsworth community is applying the agency it took in preparing the Neighbourhood Plan to the hard graft of implementing it. The CLT is working closely with the other community organisations, notably the Residents and Business Associations and the Emsworth Forum, to assess what can be achieved with the resources that can be squeezed from the system and how they might be marshalled and coordinated.
The overwhelmingly positive endorsement of the plan given by the recent neighbourhood referendum provides a clear agenda and work plan to concentrate on. Community activism has already chalked-up major successes in retaining the GP surgery and the local library in the town centre. Other priority projects include improvements to public outdoor areas, traffic calming to make it easier and safer to move around the centre and refurbishment of the public toilets in South Street.