RENT and rates, car park charges and the problem of rough sleeping were all high on the agenda when the Daily Echo hosted a discussion about the future of the high street.

A breakfast event at the Norfolk Hotel brought together large and small traders, council chiefs and town centre representatives.

It came at the end of a fortnight of Daily Echo coverage of the challenges facing Dorset’s high streets.

Editor Andy Martin told the 35-strong gathering that the coverage would go on. “We will continue to prioritise the issue and be as supportive as we can to the local business community of which we are a part,” he said.

Paul Kinvig, chief operating officer of Bournemouth Town Centre BID – which sponsored the event – had just been to a conference called The Death of the High Street?, organised by the Association of Town and City Management.

He said: “All the issues that we face now in Bournemouth are not peculiar to Bournemouth.

“Sometimes I think we have to recognise that many of the issues we face are common to towns and cities throughout the UK.”

Alctrincham in Greater Manchester had been held up as a national example for its work on the key issues of improving the public realm; footfall; cleanliness; town centre rangers; and parking.

Bournemouth was ahead of the pack on many of these issues but still needed to work on a vision for the town, he said.

“As far as the public realm is concerned, that has to have tangible outcomes that are more than just building apartments with retail units underneath,” he added.

He told how footfall was 15 per cent up over 2018 and up by 147 per cent over Christmas.

But he added: “One of the big issues that stopped people coming into Bournemouth at Christmas or detracted from their experience was rough sleeping, homelessness, antisocial behaviour and aggressive begging.”

Jon Weaver, head of resort marketing and events at Bournemouth council, spoke of the work needed to turn footfall into cash at the tills.

“The Christmas Tree wonderland was designed to pull people in but what comes after that is how to create the experience beyond that key offer. That’s always been the most important thing,” he said.

He urged retailers to get involved. “We’re trying to say to people, at a very basic level, get engaged so you become part of the experience that people go to,” he added.

Beales chief executive Tony Brown said Bournemouth was succeeding at attracting people into town but needed to do more to keep them.

He said retail was about “acquisition and retention” of customers.

“I think what we do in Bournemouth is a fantastic job at acquiring people to come into the town. We do a worse job at retaining them,” he said.

“We are very good at the big events but to retain them afterwards, there are some critical issues that we have to resolve.”

Mr Brown said extra footfall at Christmas had not helped shops.

“I spent £45,000 on payroll opening for the Christmas Tree Wonderland and got nothing back because the customers come for that particular attraction and don’t want to shop,” he said.

“I’m promoting the whole town experience but I think we’re a long, long way away from creating the public realm experience to keep them here.”

More coverage of the event in the Daily Echo on Monday.