MORE than 1,500 retail jobs could be lost in Bracknell post-pandemic as the town is set to be hit hard by the impacts of coronavirus, a major study has suggested.

Bracknell ranked bottom in an assessment of how 109 UK towns and cities would fare when the pandemic is over.

READ MORE: Where are the coronavirus hotspots in Bracknell Forest?

But this investigation has prompted a huge rebuttal from council chiefs who say the town is “ready to respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic.”

What does the research show?

The research was based on the proportion of jobs which will continue being done from home post-coronavirus, the number of retail jobs expected to be lost following the pandemic, and the strength of local cultural offerings.

Bracknell News:

Bracknell ranked second highest in the number of jobs expected to be lost as a percentage, with 1,505 (38 per cent of all retail jobs in the town) anticipated to disappear.

READ MORE: Do you remember Bracknell's bus depot?

According to audit firm KPMG, a relatively high percentage of jobs in the town are expected to continue being done from home after the pandemic, too.

Ranked top with Hemel Hempstead, 27.4 per cent of jobs in the town could fall into this category post-pandemic.

Bracknell’s local cultural offering is not ranked but indicators given for sports facilities, culture and recreation and restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars are all deemed to be negative and worse than neighbours Reading, but better than in Slough.

What could this mean for Bracknell?

When these three factors are combined to indicate the overall vulnerability of a place, Bracknell fares worse than any of the 108 other towns and cities ranked.

According to the report, Bracknell could be “hit relatively hard” by the “loss of commuter footfall and retail offering” and a “limited cultural offering to attract people” to the town.

READ MORE: Community covid-19 testing set to be rolled out in Bracknell

Fundamentally, this could mean less of a presence in the town centre with fewer commuters, closed shops and a small range of attractions.

Bracknell News:

Yael Selfin, Chief Economist at KPMG UK, said: “As people travel less for work or to shop, town and city centres will need alternative offerings to fill vacant space and to attract people to the area as we hopefully leave the pandemic behind sometime this year.

“High streets will need to be reimagined as cultural and recreational hubs that will act as magnets for businesses and jobs able to transform less prosperous areas.”

What has the reaction to this report been like?

Richard Knight, a top Bracknell businessman who has previously spelt out his fears for the town centre’s retail sector, told the News he was “worried” about the town.

Now running Lionheart Business Troubleshooting, Richard said: “I am worried about Bracknell. I am worried about the retail industry nationwide. I think there will still be tens or hundreds of thousands who will lose their jobs in the retail industry.

READ MORE: Bracknell businessman worried for the future of town's retail

“My daughter is in retail and I have said on numerous occasions over the last 10 months that she needs to look at an alternative source of income.

Bracknell News:

“As regards what can Bracknell do to recover, that's a tough one. We would all hope that once things open up, people will spend again - if they have money to spend and a job.

“For businesses to recover nearly a years worth of lost income will take years.

“I don't have the answer but I fear neither does the government.”

READ MORE: Timeline of Bracknell's regeneration

The report’s findings have prompted a huge rebuttal from Bracknell Forest Council.

High streets across the country including Bracknell’s have been greatly affected by the pandemic, the council claims, but the authority says the town is in a “strong position” to bounce back.

According to the council, this is because:

  • Bracknell Forest’s unemployment rate is 3.4 per cent, which is lower than in Reading and in Slough and lower than the national average.
  • The town is “only part way through the regeneration of the town centre” and “ideally placed” to adapt and react quickly.
  • The Lexicon has the “key ingredients” needed to “rise to the challenges ahead” and is “much loved by resident and businesses alike”.
  • A “loyal community” keeps coming back to the town centre to visit and revisit a cluster of shops at The Lexicon

Bracknell News:

  • With a performance space already present in the town centre, there are plans for events to bring the community back into Bracknell as part of the council’s recovery plan.
  • The town centre has “excellent parking facilities and transport links” and its accessibility is “unrivalled” locally.
  • A new youth hub planned for the town centre will provide a base in Bracknell for many youngsters
  • Bracknell is surrounded by attractive nature reserves and wildlife sites, has good schools, a low crime rate, job prospects and is an “attractive place to live, work and visit.”

Bracknell Forest Council also suggested the imminent development of The Deck, a public space complete with shops, bars and restaurants which will link Princess Square to The Lexicon, will bring in a range of hospitality, leisure and recreational offerings.

Bracknell News:

READ MORE: Next step forward for development of The Deck

Furthermore, the latest regeneration plans outlined by the council, which will see three sites in the Bracknell redeveloped, will help to created a “vibrant resident community” within five minutes walk of the town centre.

Councillor Marc Brunel-Walker, BFC’s town centre regeneration boss, said: “These are difficult times for town centres across the country.

“Bracknell town centre is no worse off than anywhere else, high streets nationwide have suffered but we will bounce back. We have so much to offer, things that cannot be seen or understood by looking at numbers on a spreadsheet.

“Bracknell Forest Council is working with a number of partners who share our vision for the town centre.

With a re-imagined town centre providing a heart to the community, we are ready to respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic.”